At the beginning of the pandemic, instances of COVID-fuelled anger started making the news as businesses introduced measures to reduce the risk of exposure. Even as our economy re-opens, this anger could flare again as restrictions remain in place and segments of the population remain unvaccinated.
"People are chomping at the bit to return to normalcy, and they can't," says WSPS mental health consultant Kristy Cork. "The resulting anger in some people may just be an expression of frustration or fear, but that doesn't make the potential for violence less real." This violence could take the form of threats, verbal assaults, and physical assaults.
While workplaces can’t manage how their visitors or customers may feel, they can put measures in place to protect employees. “As with any hazard,” says Kristy, “it’s about being prepared.”
5 steps to guard against COVID-related violence
Here's what Kristy suggests.
- Review your policies and procedures regarding violence and harassment, and preventing transmission of COVID-19 to ensure 1) they are consistent with current requirements, and 2) they take into account the potential for re-opening related violence and aggression. Post updated versions in the workplace and share them with all employees.
- Consider implementing a vaccination policy if you don't already have one, and incorporate it into your safety plan. Would asking for proof of vaccination or making vaccination a condition of employment make sense or be unnecessary overreach? Explore potential ramifications with your legal advisor. Whatever you decide, put a plan and strategy in place now to support your decision. In your communications with employees, explain your rationale. "You don't want to be dealing with vaccination issues once people are already back at work," says Kristy.
- Continue minimizing visitor and customer contact with employees, offering such service options as online ordering and delivery, curbside pick-up, personal shoppers, home delivery for groceries, food, and other services, and alternative shopping hours.
- Take concrete steps to protect employees. For instance:
- Use exterior signage to make your COVID-19 requirements clear to customers and other visitors before they enter your facility. Remove any signage that could distract people from your key COVID messages.
- Post someone at a store or restaurant entrance to ensure safety protocols and capacity limits are understood and being followed. Inside the facility, consider assigning roles for cleaning and sanitizing to prevent overburdening employees with additional tasks.
- Maintain or install physical barriers such as plexiglass partitions. Avoid creating additional hazards, such as barriers that may prevent employees from removing themselves from an area if a threat occurs.
- Understand that there are varying opinions regarding the COVID-19 vaccine that could lead to conflict. Ensure everyone is treated with respect while taking the necessary steps to keep all employees safe.
- Give employees the means to protect themselves:
- Ensure your security systems - panic buttons, cameras, alarms - are effective and working properly. Provide refresher training on how to use them.
- Create a safe area where employees can go if they feel they are in imminent danger, such as a room that locks from the inside, has a second exit route, and has a phone or silent alarm.
- Train employees on how to recognize threats to themselves or other workers, defuse potential conflict, and activate assistance if needed.
- Review with employees how to report a possible threat to their manager, supervisor, security staff, or 911.
How WSPS can help
Check out this new guidance document - Violence and COVID-19: What Employers in the Retail/Service Sector Need to Know
Sign up employees for these eCourses:
- Dealing with Difficult or Hostile Customers (1 hour)
- Violence in the Workplace: Establish a Prevention Program (1.5 hours)
- Domestic Violence in the Workplace (1 hour)
Explore other violence and harassment resources.
Have a question? Call WSPS' Duty Consultant, available Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 1-877-494-WSPS (9777).