Atlanta, GA (WorkersCompensation.com) – The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention has issued new guidance for employers on how to protect their employees from attacks at the hands of customers unwilling to comply with mask policies.
The new guidelines issued this week provide training on how to decrease violent outbursts and threats against workers enforcing mask policies, as well as recommendations on what employees should and should not do when confronted with a customer who refuses to wear a mask.
Businesses should have a plan, the Center said.
“Put in place steps 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. Possible responses may include reporting to a manager or supervisor on-duty, calling security, or calling 911,” the CDC said.
The guidelines also encourage employers to train employees on how to recognize a situation that may become violent, how to de-escalate a situation, and how to protect themselves and other employees. The CDC recommends employers have teams of two employees, if staffing allows, enforcing mask policies, and that they identify for their employees a safe area they can go to if they feel threatened — ideally one that locks from the inside and is equipped with a phone or silent alarm.
Employees, the CDC said, should not argue with anyone who refuses to wear a mask if they become threatening or violent, and they should not force anyone who appears upset or violent to wear a mask or adhere to other COVID-19 policies, like limits on household items or food.
The recommendations come as the nation has seen an increasing number of attacks on workers over mask disputes, among other things.
Most recently, a 17-year-old Sesame Place employee was attacked just outside of the theme park after asking a couple inside the park to wear their masks; a 17-year-old Chili’s hostess in Baton Rouge, La., was attacked by a group of women when she told them they could not be seated together due to social distancing guidelines, and a gate agent in a Phoenix airport terminal was attacked by a passenger after American Airlines followed through on its mask policy to terminate her itinerary when she refused to wear a mask inflight.
According to the CDC, workers in retail settings are most at-risk.
“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 center said. “These threats and assaults can come from customers, other employees, or employers. 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.”