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Published: 30 June 2023

What happens if I’m assaulted at work? New retail workers criminal laws

A new law has passed the Lower House of the NSW Parliament that creates new criminal offences for assault, threats and abuse against retail workers.

Who is a retail worker?

The law defines a retail worker as a person whose duties primarily involve working in an area of a shop open to the public. The meaning of shop is quite broad and includes tents, vehicles, yards and even extends to auctions.

What are the new offences?

If these laws pass the Senate, three new offences in relation to retail workers will be created with the following maximum penalties:

  1. Four years imprisonment for assaulting, throwing a missile, stalking, harassing or intimidating
  2. Six years imprisonment if the assault occasions actual bodily harm
  3. 11 years imprisonment if the assault wounds or inflicts grievous bodily harm if the offender was reckless as to causing actual bodily harm.

When do these offences come into play?

The above offences should be only considered by police when the criminal conduct occurred when the retail worker was carrying out actions in the course of their work duties.

However, this is quite broad. It includes even if the worker is not on duty as long as the action is related to their work. This may include lunch breaks and travelling to and from work. However, we won’t be certain until judicial officers are asked to consider this question.

These offences add years on top of the standard offences. For example, if the victim of a common assault wasn’t a retail worker the maximum term of imprisonment would be two years.

So, now we turn our minds to ask, why are retail workers receiving such special attention?

Retail violence kneejerk?

When the Attorney General (AG) of NSW spoke about the proposed law in Parliament, he was quick to point out that violence in the retail setting is distressing, and commented on the communities reliance on retail workers to ‘keep our economy running’. The AG went on to state that ‘acts of violence against retail workers warrant higher penalties’. You can access the Second Reading Speech here: .

There is no doubt that assault cause stress, pain and anguish. However, why are retail workers being treated differently? Is slapping a person working at General Pants Co worse than slapping a miner? Or a bus driver?


This means that retail workers now join a special class of jobs which relate to offenders receiving higher penalties for criminal offences. This class already includes police and law enforcement officers, teachers and frontline health/emergency workers. On a broader level, the introduction of new offences that cover existing criminal conduct is known as overcriminalisation.

Overcriminalisation is often criticised due to law makers appeasing their political bases through appearing to be ‘tough on crime’ and proffering enhanced protections for certain favourable industries or groups.

However, new criminal offences add layers of complexity and introduces more issues to an already complicated and interwoven criminal justice system.

Which charge?

For example, a police officer attends a scene in which the victim complains of a slap to their face. The police officer has to consider the person’s occupation and how their role relates to the offence before charging the accused. One slap can be charged under many criminal offences within the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW), depending on the work carried out by the victim:

  1. David Jones shop assistant – section 60G(1) (proposed new section)
  2. A psychologist working with inmates – section 60A
  3. St John Ambulance volunteer – section 60AE
  4. A police officer – section 60
  5. National Parks and Wildlife Service ranger – section 60AD
  6. A substitute teacher – section 60E
  7. A sailor protecting a wreck – section 57
  8. A pool inspector – section 61

As a solution, some argue it would be more efficient for the police, Courts and defence lawyers to be discussing the single charge of common assault, with the victim’s employment to be an aggravating factor rather than creating multiple separate offences.

However, with overcriminalisation increasing year on year, others argue it is more likely the opposite will occur, with new offences to be created and proclaimed close to election time.

At Morrisons we are specialist criminal and traffic lawyers based in Wollongong and the Southern Highlands. If you require advice or representation, you can  with one of our expert criminal lawyers.

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We are the only private law firm in the Illawarra, Southern Highlands and South Coast regions with two lawyers recognised as Accredited Specialists in Criminal Law by the NSW Law Society.