WASHINGTON—The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) advises that everyone wear a mask in public to slow the spread of COVID-19, but enforcing face mask policies has quickly become contentious. Many businesses have faced verbal confrontations and even violence from people refusing to follow recommended guidelines.
Although no government agency regulates masks or cloth face coverings, more than 30 states mandate that people must wear masks or face coverings in public. In response to incidents that have arisen in businesses involving customers who don’t wish to comply with these mandates, the CDC has created a website that offers strategies for avoiding a violent response when asking customers to wear masks and follow social distancing rules.
According to the CDC, workplace violence is defined as “violent acts, including physical assaults and threats of assault, directed toward persons at work or on duty.” While threats and assaults can happen anywhere, they’re more likely to occur in retail, services and other customer-based businesses.
Conflict resolution is the process of finding a peaceful end to a conflict or argument. A non-violent response is a peaceful approach to a situation in which a person is aggressive or threatening. It involves remaining calm, giving the person space and making sure other people in the area are not touching the person or trying to forcibly remove them.
According to a CNN report, the CDC’s No. 1 suggestion is “Don't argue with a customer if they make threats or become violent.” Earlier this month, a man in Pennsylvania was charged with shooting at an employee after being asked to wear a mask in a cigar shop. Last month Walmart, Home Depot and CVS, among other retailers, announced they would still serve customers who refuse to wear masks. Walmart has instructed managers to ask non-masked customers if they’d like a complimentary mask. If they refuse, they’re advised to let them continue shopping.
The CDC’s Basic Dos and Don’ts for Employees to Prevent Workplace Violence include:
- Don’t argue with customers if they make threats or become violent.
- Don’t attempt to force anyone who appears upset or violent to follow COVID-19 prevention policies or other policies or practices related to COVID-19, including limits on numbers of household or food products.
- Do attend all employer-provided training on how to recognize, avoid and respond to potentially violent situations.
- Do report perceived threats or acts of violence to the manager or supervisor, following any existing policies that may be in place.
- Do remain aware of and support coworkers and customers if a threatening or violent situation occurs.
NACS has compiled resources to help the convenience retail community navigate the COVID-19 crisis. For news updates and guidance, visit our coronavirus resources page.