Outrageous Behavior: How Employers Must Support Employees

Being spit on. Threatened verbally and physically. Given the “finger”.

Imagine going to work and being treated this way. It is happening on a daily basis; according to feedback from members who have employees who interact with the general public. Members of the general public in some communities are adamantly opposed to public health orders mandating face coverings and other practices to address Covid-19. Many are taking out their anger on employees who are told to advise patrons of their law and enforce that law, yet had no role in making that law. Employees face a no-win situation when confronting customers who choose to ignore the law. Employees are demoralized, stressed out and fearful for their safety.

The issue has become so problematic that the CDC has issued new guidance; essentially, advising employers to know the signs of potential escalating conflict, to de-escalate that conflict, and to train employees on how to escape interactions that become violent. Helpful tips that do not hold the force of law and the tips do not trump local health orders.

So what can employers do to support employees facing the rage and outrageous behavior of members of the general public?

From a workplace safety perspective, employers must take reasonable measures to protect the safety of employees. As such, threats or acts of violence cannot be ignored; a heightened security presence may be necessary. Signs and posters should be posted to inform the public of required safety protocols. Refusing entry and expulsion of offenders may be appropriate. Installation of cameras to record behaviors and gather information to share with law enforcement may be necessary.

To address employee morale, employers must take prompt actions such as:

  • Ask and listen: Ask employees what they are facing and to describe what they need.
  • Seek expertise: distress and emotional stress is likely beyond the expertise for an employer to manage, so seeking external assistance is essential.
  • Training: employees may need new skills to handle conflict, including de-escalation and employer policies for seeking help, reporting, and safety escape plans.
  • EAPs: on-demand benefits to support employees seeking professional emotional counseling.
  • Group counseling: groups of employees can benefit from sessions facilitated by a professional counselor.
  • Time off: employees should take vacation time to rest and recover; perhaps offer extra “combat” time off to acknowledge the trauma employees experience.
  • Re-positioning: employees who are really struggling can be re-positioned to a different position altogether or a special project.
  • Rotation: move employees around so they have a break from dealing with the general public.
  • Security: employers can revisit budgets to reallocate funds to enhance security efforts.

Employers Council has expertise, resources, and services to help employers support their employees in these difficult times. Reach out today for help.