As many states and municipalities have issued mandatory mask orders for businesses that are open to the public, operators like retailers and restaurants have been thrust into the front lines of reducing the spread of the virus by requiring customers to wear masks when on their premises.
This has led to confrontations that sometimes result in violence — and even in the deaths of some workers.
Due to the volatility of some of these confrontations, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a guide for limiting workplace violence associated with COVID-19. The guidance recommends:
- Offering customers options to minimize their contact with others and promote social distancing. These can include curbside pick-up; personal shoppers; home delivery for groceries, food and other services; and alternative shopping hours.
- Posting signs that let customers know about policies for wearing masks, social distancing, and the maximum number of people allowed in a business facility.
- Advertising COVID-19-related policies on your website.
- Providing employee training on threat recognition, conflict resolution, non-violent response, and on any other relevant topics related to workplace violence response.
- Putting in place steps to assess and respond to workplace violence. Response will depend on the severity of the violence and on the size and structure of the business. Possible responses may include reporting to a manager or supervisor on-duty, calling security or calling 911.
- Remaining aware of and supporting employees and customers if a threatening or violent situation occurs.
- Assigning two workers to work as a team to encourage COVID-19 prevention policies to be followed, if staffing permits.
- Installing security systems (e.g., panic buttons, cameras, alarms) and training employees on how to use them.
- Identifying a safe area for employees to go to if they feel they are in danger (e.g., a room that locks from the inside, has a second exit route, and has a phone or silent alarm).
Training on warning signs and response
Employee training on workplace violence typically covers definitions and types of violence, risk factors and warning signs for violence, prevention strategies, and ways to respond to threatening, potentially violent, or violent situations.
Warning signs — As part of training, employees often learn verbal and non-verbal cues that may be warning signs of possible violence. Verbal cues can include speaking loudly or swearing.
Non-verbal cues can include clenched fists, heavy breathing, a fixed stare and pacing. The more cues shown, the greater the risk of violence.
Response — During training, employees also learn how to appropriately respond to potentially violent or violent situations.
Responses range from paying attention to a person and maintaining non-threatening eye contact, to using supportive body language and avoiding threatening gestures, such as finger-pointing or crossed arms.
Consider implementing a “tap-out” system that allows an employee to make a signal for a supervisor or other employee to step in and the at-risk staff member to walk away.
Employee responsibilities guidelines
- Attend all employer-provided training on how to recognize, avoid and respond to potentially violent situations.
- Report perceived threats or acts of violence to your manager or supervisor, following any existing policies that may be in place.
- Remain aware of and support co-workers and customers if a threatening or violent situation occurs.
- Do not argue with a customer if they make threats or become violent. If needed, go to a safe area, (ideally, a room that locks from the inside, has a second exit route, and has a phone or silent alarm).
- Do not attempt to force anyone who appears upset or violent to follow COVID-19 prevention policies or other polices or practices related to COVID-19 (such as limits on the number of household or food products that can be bought).