HR Issues in Retail

Challenges Faced by HR Professionals in the Retail Industry

I received a call yesterday from a manager and I was immediately reminded why I chose to write this topic. As the manager explained the situation, my initial response was, “An employee did what?!”

HR Issues in Retail

Oh man, employee’s in the retail industry never cease to surprise and amaze me. Whether they get caught with their pants down, smoking weed (excuse my slang), yelling at a customer or slicing off a finger with a wheat grass juicer…the fun never ends in HR. Us retail HR folk aren’t working in an industry where people are sitting in front of computer screens and pounding away at a keyboard. We are supporting people literally running around a sales floor, loading products onto the shelves, providing customers their every desire and taking their cash. It’s a crazy world!

Bad Judgement

Now, going back to the phone call I had with the manager. An employee who had worked for the company for a few years apparently had pulled down her pants to “moon” her co-workers on the sales floor right in plain view of the customers. Clearly, there’s a few disturbing things going on here: potential sexual harassment, customer complaints…and the list goes on. Inappropriate conduct is not an uncommon occurrence among people new to the workforce or just plain immature. It was also not long ago we had an employee who was reported as swinging around sausage as if it was his “you know what.”

Bad judgement can happen to good people but it’s seems that it happens a little more often to the younger population. With the Generation Y employees work doesn’t seem to be a top priority, so when things get rough they easily disconnect. Everything can become challenging when working with part-time employees who are not committed to their job. For them its just a means to have some extra after school spending money.

Internal Theft

When you have cool products that employees like and sell everyday, temptation can be tough to ignore. According to the National Retail Security Survey, almost 44% of shrink in retail can be attributed to internal theft. Employee theft may include discount abuse, refund abuse and even credit card abuse. There are now companies that specialize in tracking employees who have committed this offense with a previous employer. Terminating employees because they have walked off their shift with a bag full of groceries happens all too frequently. Companies must be sure they have policies and practices in place that discourage employees to abuse the systems. Make sure that temptation is completely absent from the environment. At the same time you don’t want to create too many policies that create bureaucracy and provide an unsuitable environment for employees to provide exceptional customer service.


Safety is another important topic HR professionals in the retail field need to keep an eye on. There’s a lot of employees working fast and with a lot of different kinds of product. Things can easily fall off the shelves, box cutters slide a little too quickly, hands making the same motion over and over, lifting heavy products; there are plenty of ways to get injured on the job. Not to mention getting hurt when you come to work stoned or hungover from the night before (this is totally normal). It’s a major bummer to slice off the tip of your finger the first week on the job because you aren’t following instructions and using equipment the way you were trained. In retail, we have to make it difficult for people to hurt themselves. We cannot assume they won’t stick their hands down a wheat grass juicer!

While these topics don’t include all of the areas that are challenging to the HR professional in the retail industry, they are probably some of the more frustrating.

Moral of the story: When you have great people working for you, don’t let them go! And when you have not so good people working for you, it’s only a matter of time before they get caught with their pants down!

HR Issues in Retail

What are some of your experiences with HR in retail’?

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Sabra Reyes

Sabra Reyes is one of those rare Human Resources professionals who knew HR was the career of choice in college. She received a BS in Business with a concentration in Human Resources Management from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. After 10 years of HR generalist work, she has found her niche as a Human Resources Director for an independent natural and organic grocery company with more than a handful of stores in the Bay Area region of California. You can find her on Linkedin.

Reader Interactions


  1. Kyle Jones says

    The actions of some never cease to amaze me. I am speechless regarding the sausage incident. That’s one of those things that make you want to say “REALLY?”

    • Sabra Reyes says

      Hi Kyle, these examples just barely skim the surface for the kind of things we deal with on a regular basis. At this stage, I tend to forget the situations that would probably appall people as it has become “normal”.

  2. Jessica Miller-Merrell says

    Hi Sabra,

    These types of scenarios and situations you describe are just some of the joys of working in retail. I once had two managers compete to see who could have sex faster with one of their direct reports. One of the managers had a pregnant phone operator who’s husband was in prison. That particular manager won. . . It is a crazy industry that never stops.


  3. Shaunk says

    Ties being lit on fire, employees yelling at customers, drunk employees, commission disputes, drugs, and the usual sexual harassment complaints that all goes along with retail… fun times… and I actually miss working in that environment. We eliminated the bad, kept the good, and did all we could to make work a fun place to be!


  1. […] After having joined the retail industry from a company where everyone WAS reading emails all day, it was a real wake up call. I remember trying to figure out how the heck I would communicate new policies and processes to the masses. Group emails are just sooo easy to write up and push send! Within a few weeks of starting with the company I made a huge mistake by changing a company policy and emailing all of the managers about the changes that would be affecting them in the future. This turned into a huge uproar! Not only was I only able to reach a few of the managers by email but I neglected to think about how they were accustomed to receiving this sort of communication. Mind you this is a company of maybe 300 employees at that time and probably only 35 people had company email addresses. PS – This was only 3 years ago! This situation taught me I have to figure out ways to communicate with the employees and managers in a retail environment. […]


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