Safety on the way home from work

Should employers have responsibility for how their employees – especially younger women – get home at night?

Running up the stairs


Last week it was reported that a woman who worked late-night shifts at a takeaway shop had won a discrimination case after her male boss ignored her fears about walking home alone. Fathimath Athif was awarded more than £16,000 even though she had worked only four shifts at Spice E17, an unlicensed takeaway in east London.

Representing herself at the hearing, Athif produced statistics that showed that women were more scared than men of being out and alone in the dark. A judge found that Athif had been put at a “disadvantage” and discriminated against by being required to work beyond her agreed hours. The tribunal ruled that Athif had been treated in a “hostile, intimidatory and violent manner” and awarded her £16,465.54 in damages.

There has been a lot in the news of late about sexual harassment at work. Parliament passed an Act on the subject which will soon become law. It deals with abuse at work from work colleagues, but a provision about employers’ responsibility to protect staff from third party abuse was dropped. A lot of the recent coverage of abuse has focused on the fast food industry which employs mainly very young members of staff who often work late or very early. But there is not much focus on what happens after work – on the way home from work. Perhaps this should not be an issue for employers.

But as the mother of someone who worked at a well-known fast food restaurant, and based on the case above, I would argue that, in some sense it is. I used to wait for my daughter after work as there is no public transport later at night to where we live. On several occasions I waited for more than half an hour, sometimes an hour, for her to finish cleaning after her shift had supposedly finished. The restaurant she worked at is in a pedestrian area, where no other outlets are open past 9pm. There are a lot of dark alleyways going off that pedestrian area. My daughter was propositioned several times at work and pestered for her phone number, with absolutely zero encouragement on her part – the men involved seem to think they have carte blanche to harass any young woman in a public space. Any one of those men could have decided to hang around after her work finished.

My daughter was just 16 when she started work there. She doesn’t work there any longer, but I do think employers have a duty of care to young members of staff, particularly women. That means at the very least ensuring they finish at a set hour so anyone picking them up is waiting and transport plans can be made. I interviewed a woman who has set up an app – WalkSafe – which allows users to plan a safer route home and to share that route with trusted friends and family. They are working with employers. I’m not sure technology has all the answers, but the first step is surely to admit there might be a problem.

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