Preventing Physical and Verbal Covid-19 Workplace Violence

Bloomberg Daily Labor Report

Lauri F. Rasnick and Elizabeth K. McManus, attorneys in the Employment, Labor, and Workforce Management practice, in the firm’s New York office, co-authored an article in the Bloomberg Daily Labor Report, titled “Preventing Physical and Verbal Covid-19 Workplace Violence.”

Following is an excerpt:

As employers try to keep up with the torrent of changing requirements and expectations in light of Covid-19, an insidious workplace issue has arisen: the increased potential for pandemic-related workplace violence.

Scores of stories are recounting shootings, assaults, and other workplace violence against employees by customers across a variety of work environments—most often because of a customer’s refusal to abide by mask-wearing guidelines. Employees have been screamed at, spit on, slapped, and, in a few tragic worst-cases, killed simply for trying to enforce mask-wearing rules.

Aware of the negative and, sadly, sometimes violent reactions that mask-wearing and social distancing guidelines have provoked, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released guidance, “Limiting Workplace Violence Associated with COVID-19 Prevention Policies in Retail and Services Businesses.”

CDC Looks at Physical and Verbal Assaults

The CDC guidance is “intended for use by employers and employees in retail, services, and other customer-based businesses,” and contemplates a broad range of potential workplace violence that can come from “customers, other employees and employers.”

Included in its workplace violence definition are the obvious physical assaults along with threats and “verbal assault,” defined broadly to include words intended to cause “negative emotions of the person being assaulted.”

The CDC’s recommended actions to prevent workplace violence include:

  • advertising Covid-19 related policies on the business website;
  • posting signs to let customers know about safety measures such as masks and social distancing requirements;
  • providing employee training on threat recognition, conflict resolution, and nonviolent response;
  • putting in place steps to asses and respond to workplace violence, e.g., reporting to a manager or supervisor or calling 911; and
  • remaining aware of and supporting employees and customers if a threatening or violent situation occurs.

Employers of all varieties—even those which do not have customer-facing interactions—should take stock of the CDC’s advice and put in place mechanisms to both prevent and respond to workplace violence.