How to respond to sexist abuse without being fired?

(12 Posts)
Pinkangel23 Mon 20-Jun-16 01:32:24

Not quite sure if this is the right place to post but issue is rooted in everyday sexism.

I work part-time in a low paid food retailers, having just returned from mat leave. I'd simply forgotten the scale of sexist abuse female staff have to put up with from male customers.

Sometimes just a patronising tone or unwanted sexual comment. Two events really stick out for me: I was serving two guys in their early twenties, bit of misunderstanding over order, they laughed and humiliated me. To make things worse a male manager overhead the whole thing, could of rectified situation easily but didn't.

Another time I was cleaning the restaurant area, a male customer sitting with his about 10yr old son told me he could see my underwear( probably due to cheap I'll-fitting uniforms). I laughed it off but inside I was raging. I wasn't embarrassed I just wanted to say to him'so what, it's just a bit of coloured material, and what makes you think my body is open to public scrutiny and your teaching your son that it's ok.' But I didn't want to face disciplinary.

What has really upset me is an incident involving a 16yr old female staff member. I wasn't present but said staff member made a silly mistake when serving a male, late teens. He then verbally abuses her, male manager steps in to rectify situation- replaces food but defends staff member. Angry male still going nuts and is told to return tomorrow for refund. He doesn't return. Instead he makes a huge fuss on fb shaming store and girl involved. He body shames her with several derogatory remarks. We find this out due to him being a friend of s friend of another employee.

I just think enough is enough. I'm not saying female customers aren't rude either but anyone who's worked in this time of environment will understand the powerlessness we feel and the humiliation. And it doesn't happen to male staff or female managers as far as I've observed. I've also witnessed it in similar establishments as a customer. Also seems the larger the female the worse the abuse.

Most managers are sympathetic but don't deal with abuse for fear of losing profit. I need to do something or find an assertive way to deal with remarks or abuse without being sacked. Any ideas?

EBearhug Mon 20-Jun-16 01:45:04

Is it a large organisation with separate HR? If so, I would ask.them for advice on the best way to handle it, and to advise managers on how to deal with it. Give them the examples you have given here, ask how should that sort of thing be dealt with, if it happens again?

What you're asking for is not at all unreasonable - I see posters up in various places these days, saying their staff should be able to conduct their work without harassment - I think railway stations and a post office are places I've seen them recently. Maybe find some and take photos and ask if you can get similar posters for your workplace.

Also take a log of all examples you see (which I realise might be difficult when you're busy, but as soon as you can.) Write the date, time, who was involved (staff and customers), summary of what was said/happened, and the outcome. Maybe if they see how much of a problem it is, they'll feel more inclined to do something.

EBearhug Mon 20-Jun-16 01:48:14

Also, (and it's probably partly what you want from posting,) see if you can find out how other companies deal with such things - I'd focus on those who publicly state they won't accept it.

Does your employer offer any training? Maybe they have a course on how to deal with difficult customers.

erinaceus Mon 20-Jun-16 05:35:47

Most managers are sympathetic but don't deal with abuse for fear of losing profit.

Do you think profit would go down if abuse was dealt with?

Depending on how much spare energy you have to address this(!) you could focus on the fact that your workplace tolerates customer to staff abuse rather than focus on the fact that the abuse is sexist in nature. As one suggested course of action you could:

- propose some proactive ways to deal with customer abuse of staff e.g.
- - the posters EBearhug mentions
- - assertiveness training for the manager and the staff
- - stock phrases that all staff use to maintain an atmosphere free from abuse
- - if you fear for your safety, do you have security you can call?

Suggest a six-month trial keeping a careful eye on profits for that period and comparing profits over those six months to the same period for the past few years, overall trends in profits to the store, trends in other branches of the chain, and so on, taking into account the cost of the posters and training. If profit goes down due to a crackdown on abuse, then I think you have few options except for considering a new role. Depending on your organisation, you may be able to suggest that HR take responsibility for the posters, training, monitoring and six-month trial.

Also, if your managers are sympathetic, then they may listen to your ideas, but they may feel undermined if you suggested management level strategies. You may have to put feelers out gently. Seeing as you said you just went back to work after mat leave you may not have the energy for this right now, in which case, do you have colleagues who feel the same way you do?

You do not have to tolerate this workplace environment, but it depends if you have the energy to raise the issue with your management or HR. I am not sure you what you can do about FB posts beyond report them to FB, as I suspect your customers' lives on social media are outwith the control of your employer.

Pinkangel23 Mon 20-Jun-16 14:35:51

Thanks for your replies and suggestions. Company owns and operates franchise restaurants if that makes sense. HR dept seems quite small. The general consensus is that they are only effective in dealing with 'bad' employees. Most Managers do not have that much power with the area manager ruling with an iron fist. To put into perspective a junior manager can earn about £14-19 k with no sickness benefits. They work long hrs. have a lot of responsibility and accountability for areas out with their control- sales. You could work less hrs in a call centre for the same money. However more senior ones including area manager do have free writ to mistreat employees without consequences.

Re the employee poster: I have been ranting about this for yrs, can't see the company going for it but I will see what I can do.

I'm not in until later but will speak to duty manager. I think she will answer my questions honestly and reasonably. I'm going to ask about putting a procedure to deal with customer incidents. I also had a quick search on employment law to see if employers have a duty to protect employees from customer abusr but couldn't find anything.

EBearhug Mon 20-Jun-16 15:11:47

Part of the thing about the employee poster is that it shows that it is not unreasonable to be expect to work without abuse - and some employers are prepared to say this publically. It means what you're asking for, however it is dealt with, is not an outrageous request, but something that you've a right to expect in the workplace.

Pinkangel23 Mon 20-Jun-16 15:38:47

Yes you're right it's not unreasonable to expect not to be abused at work and that's why I'm so angry. Will mention to boss. I never planned for this job to continue as long as it did so it was easier before to shrug it all off. Lots of people leave for these reasons but what about those that can't easily get a new job, never really thought like that before.

erinaceus Wed 22-Jun-16 05:06:53

However more senior ones including area manager do have free writ to mistreat employees without consequences.

I can see in a franchise model this could be a challenge, especially if the area managers are incentivised on sales and the individual store are managed by store managers. However, managers do not have free writ to mistreat employees. There is legal protection against you being mistreated by your employer, ACAS can help you to find out more about this.

Your employers also have responsibilities towards you as employees under Health and Safety law. To me it sounds as if the risk is to your safety and your mental health; I am not sure if you feel there is a risk to your physical health such as customers being threatening.

Good luck with the conversation with your boss. Let us know if we can help in any way.

Pinkangel23 Wed 22-Jun-16 15:46:55

Thanks for your reply erinaceus. So far I've been lucky to have fairly decent managers and haven't been given much hassle but not the same across the different stores.

Anyway managed to have a chat with store manager on Monday who agrees that abuse is not part of the job. She was also unaware of the fat shaming Fb post and was concerned for the welfare of the employee named. She agreed that staff should not deal with abusive customers and should inform a manager immediately if a situation arises.

The area manager is in charge of spending for restaurant equipment so is unlikely to invest in producing a zero tolerance poster as it would have to specially designed etc. She was sceptical of its effectiveness anyway, and whilst I agreed it probably wouldn't stop abuse altogether, it would be a symbol of the company's commitment to protecting employees. And, using an incident a few years back, I highlighted that dealing with abuse is subject to managers discretion- a poster would mean a uniform company policy. So we've agreed to keep a log and that if incidents escalate to revisit the idea of a poster with area manager.

EBearhug Thu 23-Jun-16 01:52:56

That sounds cautiously positive - at least you'very got your manager onside, rather than one who just says, "what do you expect, dealing with the public? It's part of the job." It would be good if you could get company commitment to protecting employees - it's the sort of thing which should be company-wide, not individual outlets.

WhereAreWeNow Thu 23-Jun-16 12:20:45

Are you a member of a union pinkangel123? This is exactly the kind of thing I'd expect your union to support you with.

maggiethemagpie Sat 09-Jul-16 21:23:20

The discrimination legislation (Equality Act) recently repealed the vicarious liability element, where an employer can be held responsible for harrassment of employees by third parties.

Doesn't mean your employer shouldn't do something about it but it does mean legally there's not a lot you can do if they refuse.

It sucks.

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