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CDC Outlines Workplace Strategies for COVID-19 Prevention-Related Violence

September 12, 2020

By  Heather Nezich, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

The CDC has posted information on limiting workplace violence related to retail and service businesses’ COVID-19 prevention 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.

The CDC guidelines for limiting COVID-19 related workplace violence is intended for service businesses including department stores, grocery stores, gas stations, and restaurants that are open and have implemented Coronavirus prevention policies and practices to minimize spread among employees and customers. Any customer-facing business can benefit from the guidelines, however, some businesses may need to adapt the outlined strategies based on physical space, staffing, and other factors.

Policies that could prompt violence toward workers include requiring masks to be worn by employees and customers, asking customers to follow social distancing rules, and setting limits on the number of customers allowed in a business facility at one time.

Workplace Violence

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

  • Threats: Verbal, written, and physical expressions that could reasonably be interpreted as intending to cause harm.
  • Verbal assaults: Yelling, swearing, insulting, or bullying another person with the intent of hurting or causing harm. Unlike physical assaults, the intent is not necessarily to cause physical harm but negative emotions of the person being assaulted.
  • Physical assaults: Hitting, slapping, kicking, pushing, choking, grabbing, or other physical contact with the intent of causing injury or harm.

Violence Prevention

The CDC recommends several employer actions to prevent workplace violence related to COVID-19:

  • Offer customers options to minimize their contact with others and promote social distancing, which can include curbside pick-up; personal shoppers; home delivery for groceries, food, and other services; and alternative shopping hours.
  • Advertise COVID-19-related policies on the business website.
  • 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.
  • Assign two workers to work as a team to encourage COVID-19 prevention policies to be followed, if staffing permits.
  • Identify a safe area for employees to go to if they feel they are in danger, such as a room that locks from the inside, has a second exit route, and has a phone or silent alarm.
  • Post signs that let customers know about policies for wearing masks, social distancing, and the maximum number of people allowed in a business facility.
  • Provide employee training on threat recognition, conflict resolution, nonviolent response, and on any other relevant topics related to workplace violence response.
  • Remain aware of and support employees and customers if a threatening or violent situation occurs.
  • Install security systems such as panic buttons, cameras, alarms, and train employees on how to use them.

Training on Warning Signs

Employee training on workplace violence usually covers definitions and types of violence, risk factors, and warning signs for violence, prevention strategies, and ways to respond to threatening, potentially violent, or violent situations, according to the CDC.

Warning signs include verbal cues such as speaking loudly or swearing. Non-verbal cues can include clenched fists, heavy breathing, fixed stare, and pacing, among other behaviors. The more cues that are shown, the greater the risk of violence.

Appropriate responses to potentially violent situations range from paying attention to a person and maintaining non-threatening eye contact, to using supportive body language and avoiding threatening gestures, such as finger pointing or crossed arms.

Dos and Don’ts

The new CDC web page provides an employee “Dos and Don’ts list.”

Do’s include:

  • Attend all employer-provided training on how to recognize, avoid, and respond to potential violent situations.
  • Report any perceived threats or acts of violence to your manager or supervisor, following any existing policies.
  • Remain aware of and support coworkers and customers if a threatening or violent situation occurs.

Don’ts include:

  • Don’t argue with a customer if they make threats or become violent, and if needed, go to a safe area, ideally a room that locks from the inside, has a second exit route, and a phone or silent alarm).
  • Don’t attempt to force anyone who appears upset or violent to follow COVID-19 prevention or other policies related to COVID-19, such as limits on the number of food or products.

Other Resources

The CDC provides links to workplace violence training and resources provided by the Federal Aviation AdministrationFederal Bureau of InvestigationNational Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and OSHA.

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