"Elderly Man Shot Dead by Police After Refusing to Wear a Mask in Grocery Store," ran the shocking July 15 headline about an incident in Minden, Ontario. Although an extreme example of how situations can get out of hand, this incident was a wake-up call for retailers about the risk of COVID-related aggression in their workplaces.
"Some people are not at their finest right now, and employee abuse at the hands of customers is on the rise in retail/service workplaces," notes WSPS Mental Health Consultant Kristy Cork.
Customers may be experiencing feelings of anxiety, frustration and fear that have been building for weeks as they walk into your workplace. Under these circumstances, even a neutral comment - "Would you like a face mask?" or "Please follow the directional markings" - could trigger an aggressive reaction.
"Your workplace and your employees need to be prepared to deal with COVD-19 related aggression or violence before something happens," says Kristy.
How? Update your workplace violence policy and risk assessment, develop new action steps, and train frontline supervisors and employees so they have the skills and knowledge to de-escalate a situation or get help. WSPS' new guidance document - Violence and COVID-19: What Employers in the Retail/Service Sector Need to Know - will get you started.
"It's time for service and retail employers to move workplace violence to the top of their agenda," says Kristy. Here are four reasons why.
- It's the law. The Occupational Health and Safety Act requires employers to protect employees from violence and harassment in the workplace, and update policies and programs as new hazards arise. COVID-19 presents new risks of violence as workers are being asked to ensure customers comply with store requirements. "Often these workers have no experience dealing with violence and harassment," says Kristy.
- Customer aggression is increasing in the service sector. After months of COVID-19 restrictions, many people are anxious, uncertain, frustrated, and more likely to take it out on customer-facing workers. Others may think COVID-19 is a hoax, and refuse to follow public health requirements, such as wearing masks in indoor public spaces. Any conflict with your customer could lead to a potentially violent behaviour. It may already be happening - are your employees trained to report it?
- COVID-19 precautions won't go away soon. If you are positioning people at the door, don't think this is for a month, and then it's back to "normal." It could go on for another 8 to 12 months. So invest in that role and take safety precautions.
- It doesn't have to be costly. WSPS has many downloadable COVID-19 resources available for businesses of all sizes.
What's in the guide?
Violence and COVID-19: What Employers in the Retail/Service Sector Need to Know takes you step by step through employers' legal duties related to COVID-19 violence, including factors to consider as you assess risks, develop policies and programs, and provide information and instructions to workers.
The guide also offers prevention and mitigation strategies for dealing with new risks of violence presented by COVID-19. Among the strategies:
- setting up workers for success when interacting with potentially abusive customers, including training on de-escalation and crisis intervention
- creating protocols on how to respond to calls for assistance
- protecting employees who work in isolation
- dealing with domestic violence that might impact the workplace
How WSPS can help
Visit WSPS' COVID-19 hub to find all WSPS pandemic-related articles, downloadable checklists, webinars, eCourses, and more. We're adding more items all the time.
Check out WSPS' Small Business Centre. You'll find tools and templates to help you carry out risk assessments and develop programs and policies.
Register for training:
- Dealing with Difficult or Hostile Customers (1 hour) eCourse
- Violence in the Workplace: Establish a Prevention Program (1.5 hour) eCourse
- Developing Your Workplace Violence and Harassment Program in Ontario (2 hour) eCourse
- Domestic Violence in the Workplace (1 hour) eCourse
Have a question? Call WSPS' Duty Consultant, available Monday to Friday from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm, telephone: 1-877-494-WSPS (9777).