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Illustration by Security Management

CDC Issues Guidance for Retailers Facing Anti-Mask Confrontations

Retail businesses have had a rough year, facing furloughs, store closures, supply chain disruptions, and rapidly developed new hygiene programs. They are also facing increased workplace violence risks from anti-mask confrontations.

In response to the growing threat of violent reactions to retail workers’ requests for customers to follow pandemic rules—wearing face coverings, following social distancing guidelines, or obeying occupancy limits—the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released guidance for retail employees and businesses on how to mitigate their workplace violence risk while preventing the spread of COVID-19.

The CDC defines workplace violence as “violent acts, including physical assaults and threats of assault, directed toward persons at work or on duty.”

Specific guidance from the CDC about retailer workplace violence prevention during COVID-19 includes:

  • Offer customers options to minimize contact with others via curbside pickup, personal shopping, home delivery, and alternative shopping hours.
  • Post clearly visible signs about store policies for wearing masks, social distancing, and occupancy limits.
  • Advertise COVID-19 policies on the business website.
  • Provide employee training on threat recognition, conflict resolution, nonviolent responses, and any other relevant workplace violence response topics. Training should address both verbal and nonverbal warning signs of potential violence (talking loudly, heavy breathing, pacing, agitation), as well as nonviolent conflict resolution techniques (nonthreatening eye contact, no finger pointing).
  • Put steps in place to assess and respond to workplace violence. “Response will depend on the severity of the violence and on the size and structure of the business," the CDC says. "Possible responses may include reporting to a manager or supervisor on-duty, calling security, or calling 911."
  • Assign two employees to work as a team to encourage COVID-19 prevention policies be followed.
  • Install security systems—including panic buttons, cameras, and alarms—and train employees on their use.
  • Identify a safe area for employees to assemble if they feel they are in danger.

The CDC also issued guidance for employees, recommending that they attend all employer-provided training on recognizing, avoiding, and responding to potential violence; reporting perceived threats to managers and supervisors; and remaining aware of and supporting coworkers and customers who may be in a threatening or violent situation.

Employees should not argue with customers if they become violent or make threats, the CDC warns, and employees should not attempt to force anyone who appears upset or violent to follow COVID-19 prevention policies or practices, including limits on the number of household or food products.

For more on retail workplace violence and active assailant preparedness plans, check out the July 2019 issue of Security Management or visit the ASIS International Soft Target & Active Shooter topic page.