Originally published in Thomson Reuters Practical Law
Customer-Facing Employee Safety
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and approaching holiday season, employers with customer-facing employees, such as retail clerks and restaurant workers, should take steps to protect those employees from potentially hostile encounters with customers who challenge employers’ COVID-19 mask-wearing policies or other safety protocols.
To protect customer-facing employees, employers should:
- Develop or revise policies on workplace violence, safety, and health to address COVID-19 issues.
- Train employees regularly on employer safety policies, government-mandated COVID-19 masking requirements, and appropriate de-escalation techniques.
- Post conspicuously all COVID-19-related policies, both physically in the business location and on employer websites.
When revising policies to address COVID-19, employers must be mindful of the Occupational Safety and Health Act’s General Duty Clause requiring employers to provide a workplace free from recognized harmful hazards, while balancing the employer’s obligation to reasonably accommodate customers with underlying health conditions. Employers should consider:
- Determining which employees are responsible for dealing with customers who refuse to wear masks (for example, security personnel, supervisors, or front-line workers).
- Ensuring that employees are trained on the employer’s relevant policies, state and local COVID-19 requirements, and workplace violence protocols.
- Drafting and posting a policy addressing customer requests for medical accommodations related to mask wearing.
- Offering alternatives to accessing the business, including curbside service or online shopping.
When developing employee training, employers should refer to guidance from:
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and state OSHA agencies.
- State health authorities.
- Industry-specific associations.