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Publication: Dear Abby
Retail Workers Have The Right To Their Own Personal Space

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           ABBY - May 15, 2008 
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ABBY: I disagree with your reply to "Nicki in Maryland" 
(March 23), the retail saleswoman who is tired of being 
not only touched, but physically pulled about by customers.

Everyone has personal space, and this includes service 
industry employees. A light touch on the arm is one thing; 
to be pulled or regularly touched on the shoulders and 
hands is quite another. To suggest that Nicki tolerate 
such behavior to keep a customer, or find another line of 
work, is disappointing. Frankly, some customers are not 
worth keeping, or should be educated that retail workers 
are human beings who deserve to be respected as such.

Maybe Nicki likes her job. Why should she give it up 
because of the occasional behavior of the rude and 
insensitive? Perhaps the job works for her because of 
personal or school issues. Retail jobs often have the 
most flexible schedules.

As a former retail employee, I have many fond memories, 
but I also remember people from all levels of society 
who believe that we are somehow less than human, 
temporary slaves to be treated as they see fit, and 
subjected to all manner of poor behavior without recourse. 

BETH: You are entitled to disagree. However, I also 
suggested to "Nicki" that she review the company's policy 
on touching with her employer, stay out of arm's reach, 
and look for tasks in the store that involve less contact 
with customers. While some readers sympathized with her, 
others agreed with me. Read on:

ABBY: While I agree that Nicki's situation is one about 
which the supervisor should be made aware, I believe a 
firm, straightforward "Please don't touch me" is appropriate. 
I am a former food server. I contended with the problem on a 
daily basis. I also don't care to be touched by anyone I do 
not know. I feel that everyone has the right NOT to be
touched. We as human beings need to respect this.

Nicki should, indeed, try to remain out of arm's reach as 
you suggested. That tends to work, as it makes the other 
person look foolish if they have to lean to grab you. 



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ABBY: Retail employees have no less right to say "No" to 
unwanted physical contact than any other human being. 
Moreover, a corporate culture of respect for employees 
fosters a healthy work environment, which is far more 
important to sales than the retention of a single pushy, 
touchy-feely customer who does not respect employees. 
Happy workers, confident in the support of their 
supervisor, sell with smiles on their faces, rather than 
selling at arm's length in fear. 

ABBY: Perhaps "Nicki" isn't well aware enough of her 
surroundings. A conscious effort to train herself to be 
sensitive to who is around her or approaching her could 
solve her problem. Simply glancing up could give her a 
clue as to whether the person is coming to ask a question. 
As a result, there would be less reason for the impolite 
to reach out and touch her. 

ABBY: Being touched by customers happens to go with the 
turf in any meet-the-public job. If Nicki can't accept 
this basic fact, she should find a job in accounting. 

Friendly people make more sales, receive more tips and 
earn more money. Face it: Friendliness involves a certain 
amount of physical contact, and it's human nature to reach
out to people you like. That's why successful businessmen 
make a point of shaking hands. 

ABBY is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as 
Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline 
Phillips. Write ABBY at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box  
69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069. 

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