New CDC Guidance Advises Frontline Workers Not to Argue With Anti-Mask Customers

August 27, 2020

    New guidance has been issued to help limit violent interactions stemming from COVID-19 policies.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued recommendations telling workers in the retail and restaurant sectors not to engage with customers who refuse to wear face masks to help prevent the spread of the virus.

    "Don't argue with a customer if they make threats or become violent," the website, updated on August 24, reads.

    "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),” the notice encourages employees.

    "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 (e.g., limits on number of household or food products),” the guidance continues.

    The website also advises employers to pair up workers whose are tasked with enforcing pandemic policies.

    Employers are also encouraged to educate employees on signs of possible workplace violence including “speaking loudly or swearing” and "clenched fists, heavy breathing, fixed stare and pacing."

    While it’s unclear what prompted the updated guidance, the pandemic has made things challenging for employees who are being asked to enforce COVID procedures to oftentimes unruly customers.

    As more and more stores adopt mandatory face mask policies, there have been multiple reports of aggressive encounters and confrontations.

    Many companies have been proactive about doing something to keep their employees and customers safe.

    McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski said the company felt it was “prudent” to implement a face mask policy.

    Kempczinski said he hasn’t ruled out having staff call the police should a situation escalate.

    He also revealed the workforce is being trained to "explain to customers why we have the requirement" and also with "deescalation” techniques should anyone refuse to wear a mask.

    "If someone is unwilling to wear a mask and comply with our rules, that might be where we might bring in law enforcement," he said.

    Walmart cleared up any confusion as to who will be responsible for enforcing the new policies by creating a dedicated enforcement team made up of specially trained “health ambassadors,” who will be equipped with the tools to de-escalate any situation.

    “Our Health Ambassadors are receiving special de-escalation training to help make the process as smooth as possible for customers,” Walmart spokeswoman Rebecca Thomason said in a statement.

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