Ex-staff sets up website to spotlight bullying at Sephora

Beauty retailer Sephora has been hit with allegations of bullying at one of its flagship stores in a detailed report penned by an ex-staff member.

The claims were published online on the purpose-built website Working at Sephora by former employee “Liam” and his partner “Jack”, who have requested to use pseudonyms to retain anonymity. 

The allegations include occurrences of wage theft, breaches of privacy, and mishandling of staff conflicts at the Sephora Highpoint store in Melbourne. 

Documents seen by Inside Retail show that Liam complained about being publicly scrutinised by one of the store’s managers and received official warnings that were contradictory.

In response to Liam’s complaint, the store’s management team asked Liam to switch to a different store to avoid further conflict until they could figure out how to progress.

Liam had previously indicated the store was too far away, but he was met with resistance from store management. 

According to Liam, when he took the matter to HR things didn’t improve. A bungled email chain, shared with IR by Liam, between the Highpoint store’s management team and a member of Sephora’s HR division caused private information about Liam to be shared without their permission. 

In their resignation letter to the company, Liam stated they felt he had no choice but to resign. 

Accompanying documents shown to IR also infer that staff at the Highpoint store were encouraged to attend unpaid after-hours meetings in the lead-up to Christmas in order to prepare for the busy period and train up seasonal staff. 

Jack told Inside Retail the goal of the website was to provide information for others in similar situations, and to ensure Sephora was aware of how bad things had gotten at the Highpoint store. 

“We suspect [Sephora] might just not know – because if they did they would’ve cleaned up their act,” said Jack, who was present at a meeting between Liam and the Highpoint store’s management team. 

“Liam never received an apology for what happened, so that would be nice too.”

A Sephora spokesperson told Inside Retail the business was aware of the allegations and was disappointed to hear about the experiences. 

“At Sephora we have a zero tolerance policy towards acts of bullying, harassment or intimidation and are ardent about creating fun, safe and inclusive environments for our team and our clients, holding all of our interactions to the highest standards,” the spokesperson said. 

The spokesperson would not say whether it was investigating the claims of wage theft and bullying within the store, or any action that has or will be taken in regards to the incidents.

One in ten bullied at work

Almost 10 per cent of Australians report being bullied at work, according to Safe Work Australia’s Bullying & Harassment in Australian Workplaces report. 

This is a worrying statistic that needs to be addressed. It should also be a wake-up call to businesses that aren’t taking decisive action to stamp out bullying in the workplace. 

The ease with which people can communicate in the digital age and rise of callout culture mean that issues that previously would have been swept under the rug or denied, are no longer so easy to conceal. 

This was made evident by the allegations of bullying that recently rocked beauty brand Mecca.

The discussion around wage theft in retail is escalating, with a series of underpayments having impacted retailers, including Woolworths, Lush, MJ Bale, Michael Hill, Bunnings and most recently Coles, Target and Super Retail Group. All of these retailers self-disclosed their error.

Many of these underpayments have been linked to the complexity of the Modern Award, and several high profile retailers have called for the system to be overhauled. 

Jack told IR he understood the system is complex, but that if it was hard for a business with dedicated financial teams to handle, it was far more difficult for staff.

“It’s very difficult to find out what your entitlements are, especially in regards to penalty rates and employers prey on this,” Jack said. 

“A company can be fined or ordered to repay stolen entitlements but until they start going to jail I don’t believe it will be taken seriously or stop; it’s a business model.”

“More transparency” needed to combat bullying

The difficulty in staff bullying situations is that unless people are willing to make formal complaints to upper management it can be hard for a business to even identify, according to National Retail Association chief executive Dominique Lamb. 

In an interview conducted in 2019 around the claims of bullying and harassment at Mecca, Lamb stated she believed workplace bullying can fester and impact the culture of a store, and was something that had to be managed effectively. 

However, Lamb rejects the idea that retail is an industry with a bullying problem, stating she believes most retail businesses are some of the most compassionate and empathetic in the country. 

“Most businesses in our membership group certainly train in this space, not only employees but also management,” Lamb said. 

“Certain industries have a higher likelihood of having a bullying culture… but where a business isn’t actively following guidelines set by the Fair Work Act or the safety legislation as a whole, you can see patterns appear. 

“The way you stop it is by having transparency, easy ways to report, having lots of time for training, and access to employee assistance programs in some form.”

If you have experienced or witnessed bullying in the workplace and wish to speak about it, contact us at irnews@octomedia.com.au.

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