As workers have been verbally assaulted and have faced violent threats by customers angry about required face coverings in stores, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released a new guidance to help limit any heated confrontations. Essentially, the (CDC) has cautioned retail workers not to confront anti-maskers.
"Workers may be threatened and assaulted as businesses try to put into place COVID-19 prevention policies and practices," the CDC warned in guidance issued Monday to help limit workplace violence associated with COVID-19 policies. "Based on a 1996 Current Intelligence Bulletin, threats and assaults can happen in any workplace, but may be more likely to occur in retail, services (e.g., restaurants), and other customer-or client-based businesses."
Unfortunately, the CDC is right and employees tasked with enforcing COVID-19 prevention policies and practices at retail stores and restaurants have faced violent attacks and threats. In May, The New York Times reported a Flint, Michigan, security guard was shot and killed after he told a customer she needed to wear a face mask to shop at the Family Dollar store he worked at. That same month, the Associated Press reported two Oklahoma City McDonald's employees had been shot by customers angry over being told the fast-food restaurant's indoor dining area was closed due COVID-19.
In July, at least eight employees at a Trader Joe's in New York City were injured after being assaulted and threatened by two customers angry about being told to wear masks in the store, according to NBC News. And earlier this month, WAFB9 reported a 17-year-old Chili's hostess in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was attacked and beaten with a wet floor sign by more than 11 women after she informed the group the restaurant would not sit more than six people at one table due to COVID-19 precautions.
While some customers may balk at company, state, or local orders requiring face masks, the CDC has urged all Americans to don face coverings when out in public to slow the spread of COVID-19. But new guidance from the CDC cautioned retail and service employees not to argue with or force customers who refuse to follow mandatory COVID-19 practices like wearing a mask.
"Don't argue with a customer if they make threats or become violent," the CDC cautioned. "If needed, go to a safe area (ideally, a room that locks from the inside, has a second exit route, and has a phone or silent alarm)." Retail and service workers were also encouraged to report all perceived threats and violence to their manager and support coworkers and customers if a potentially violent or threatening situation appeared to break out.
To help employers limit the potential for violence against their employees, the CDC has recommended posting visible signs in store and online about COVID-19 policies so customers are informed about any rules requiring face coverings, social distancing, and reduced capacity. The CDC also advised employers offer customers multiple ways to complete their shopping, such as curbside pick up, home delivery, alternative shopping hours, and the use of personal shoppers. Employers were also encouraged to provide their employees with training on threat recognition, conflict resolution, and nonviolent response and install security systems with cameras and panic buttons.
While it's unclear if the CDC's latest guidance will help combat COVID-19-related aggressions against retail and service workers, it's become increasingly apparent that these jobs have the potential to be uniquely dangerous due to how the coronavirus pandemic has heightened tensions and emotions between those who follow and believe in COVID-19 safety precautions and those who don't.
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all of Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here.