With US reports of employee and customer confrontations on the rise, will new advice from the CDC be enough to tackle workplace violence?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new guidance this week on how to limit workplace violence arising from conflicts between employees and customers regarding Covid-19 safety regulations.
With the CDC having recommended in March that all Americans who are able to wear face masks should do so in public places, the majority of state and local jurisdictions have now mandated face masks for employees and customers in all areas of retail in order to reduce transmission of Covid-19.
However, efforts at implementing these policies has resulted in violence against employees from those who refuse to follow the rules, with reports of confrontations across the US rising as more customers snub new safety requirements.
The CDC guidance includes strategies to limit violence towards workers, recommending employee training for warning signs and response. It also recommends that employees do not argue with customers refusing to comply with rules, and suggests installing cameras, panic buttons and alarms, as well as having a designated safe space for employees to go to if they feel unsafe.
Communication is key
Consultant Juan Martinez FCSI, principal at Profitality in Miami, thinks that guidance can only go so far, with foodservice restaurants needing to prioritize how they communicate with customers. “The guidance is easy to implement. Getting customers that are fed up with the situation to follow them is another thing. I believe that this is the minority, but it can and has happened.
“Awareness and communication of the policy in signs throughout the location with the appropriate message is a key. It is important to make sure that the customer sees the sings from the time they are walking in the space; even at the door.”
Martinez also recognizes the value of empathy if employees want to communicate with guests effectively. “One never knows what else is happening in the life of the person not wanting to wear a mask, so a bit of empathy to the guest is appropriate, along with communicating the regulations, the potential impact to themselves, others and to the business.
“It is important to explain that this shows care and courtesy towards others that may need more protection.”
The CDC has recommended that a second employee steps in to stand by another in dealing with a difficult customer, but Martinez believes that this should not be the responsibility of front of house staff.
“I am not a fan of having an employee deal with the communication with the guest that will not follow the rules, nor bringing a second person to support the first one. I think that the manager should be the one dealing with this from the beginning.
“The employee just needs to tell the manager that a customer may not be following the Covid protection rules. If the customer just won’t do it, calling the police is the only option to avoid conflict.”
“In the meantime, until the police arrives, try to isolate the customer as best as possible.”