No One Deserves A Serve survey results

In 2020, the No One Deserves A Serve campaign and the work the SDA does around customer abuse and violence shifted its focus toward the pandemic and how the associated changes – including social and economic restrictions – changed customer behaviour.

The pandemic saw significant spikes in abusive customer behaviour, with devastating effects on retail and fast food workers across the country.

The retail and fast food industries faced an increased prevalence and general risk of customer abuse and violence due to COVID-19.

Panic-buying and stock shortages, impacts from control measures such as social distancing and limits on customer numbers, hygiene measures such as hand sanitiser, face masks, QR codes and other customer record-keeping processes all contributed to a more hostile and dangerous environment for our members and workers in the retail and fast food industries.

Towards the end of 2020, the SDA surveyed both members and employers about the nature and prevalence of abuse and violence by customers, and control measures that have been introduced to reduce it.

2,338 SDA members responded to the member survey, while 17 employers responded to the employer survey – 15 retail companies and two fast food companies, representing 28 large and medium retail and fast food brands.

The survey results recognise that while some positive preventative measures have been put in place, and progress has been made in regard to overall awareness of the issue, there have not been significant improvements in customer abuse and violence experienced by SDA members.

Some of the abuse and violence experienced during this time has been as a direct consequence of COVID-19.

21% of SDA members who responded to the survey said they had been coughed on or spat at during COVID-19.

The SDA will continue to campaign to eliminate customer abuse and violence to ensure the safety of SDA members is the number one priority.

The No One Deserves A Serve campaign is a long-term campaign to change customer behaviour not just during the pandemic but every day – SDA members should never face abuse and violence at work.




  • 88% of respondents have experienced verbal abuse in the last 12 months. This is the same result as the previous 2016 SDA survey.
  • Almost half of the members who experienced verbal abuse in the last 12 months said it occurred weekly or monthly.
  • Female members were more likely to have experienced verbal abuse from a customer (89%) than male members (83%).
  • Almost 8% of respondents said they had been the victim of physical violence from a customer in the last 12 months.
  • 10.65% of respondents said they had experienced incidents of customer abuse that was sexual in nature, this is slightly less than the 2016 survey which was 11.6%.


  • 70% of respondents said that abuse and violence was more frequent during COVID-19.
  • More than 1 out of 5 of members (21.5%) said they had been coughed on or spat at during COVID-19.


  • 71% of respondents said the experience of customer abuse and violence had impacted their physical or mental health.


  • Only 58.5% of respondents said they had reported an incident of abuse or violence to their employer.
  • Young workers were much less likely to report an incident of customer abuse and violence because they didn’t think it was serious enough or nothing would be done, or it wouldn’t be taken seriously.

Measures to prevent and respond to abuse and violence

SDA members ranked the top five most effective measures to prevent abuse as:

  • Customer signage
  • Incident reporting
  • Increased security
  • Process for banning customers
  • Training on how to deal with customer aggression or de-escalation


These are just a few examples of customer abuse that members have experienced:

I was hit on the head with a pvc pipe, and had a packet of deadlocks thrown at me. –Female Retail Employee, 26-35

Had a rock thrown at my car after leaving work. –Male Retail employee, 26-35

I was grabbed by my throat by a male customer. –Female Retail Employee, 26-35

I was copping verbal abuse from customers at least a couple times a week for doing my job, which culminated in being physically assaulted and suffering concussion. I was off work for a month. –Male Retail Employee, 26-35