Staff Shouldn’t Force COVID-19 Prevention Policies On Angry Customers, CDC Advises

August 27, 2020 Updated: August 27, 2020

Federal health authorities have issued guidance on preventing violence related to enforcement of COVID-19 prevention policies, including urging employees not to argue with upset customers or try and force them to do things like wear masks.

To limit violence that may occur when businesses enforce policies and practices related to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advised in guidelines updated this week that employees should follow a series of do’s and don’t like using de-escalation techniques and avoiding antagonizing angry customers. Employers, meanwhile, are urged to provide workplace violence training and install safety measures like panic buttons and safe rooms.

Many state and local governments have in place restrictions to curb the spread of the CCP virus like public gathering size caps, while businesses across the country have also implemented their own policies, like limiting the number of household items a customer can purchase or denying service to people who refuse to wear masks. Confrontations over enforcement of such virus-related policies can become heated.

Recently, a hostess at a restaurant in Louisiana was assaulted by a group of diners after telling them they couldn’t sit together because of social distancing restrictions, an employee at a Sesame Street theme park near Philadelphia was punched in the face and had his jaw broken after confronting visitors over mask-wearing policies, while a man in Pennsylvania was charged with attempted murder after shooting at an employee after being asked to wear a mask in a cigar shop.

“Workers may be threatened and assaulted as businesses try to put into place COVID-19 prevention policies and practices (e.g., mandatory use of masks, social distancing, and limits on the number of customers allowed in a business),” the CDC noted.

Employees should be trained to respond to violence, the CDC says, which starts with learning to identify risk factors and warning signs.

“Verbal cues can include speaking loudly or swearing. Non-verbal cues can include clenched fists, heavy breathing, fixed stare, and pacing,” the CDC said.

If staffing permits, employers should assign several workers to work as a team on COVID-19 policy enforcement, the CDC said, while workers should know how to respond to situations that are threatening, potentially violent, or violent.

“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,” the CDC said.

The agency said staff shouldn’t argue with a customer if they make threats or become violent, and that they shouldn’t push too hard on enforcement.

“Don’t attempt to force anyone who appears upset or violent to follow COVID-19 prevention policies,” the agency said.

If prevention strategies are unsuccessful and violence does break out, the CDC says possible responses could include calling security or 911.

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