Managing occupational violence and customer aggression

Practical steps businesses can take to prevent workplace violence.

The COVID-19 outbreak has led to increased fear and anxiety amongst the public.

Because of this, many consumers have engaged in ‘panic buying’ creating sudden and unexpected demand for a number of products in supermarkets, pharmacies and other retail outlets.

This demand has made it difficult for retailers to maintain stock levels in stores, and has led to increased instances of inappropriate and potentially aggressive behaviour from customers.

All businesses have a responsibility to provide a safe workplace for workers and manage the risk of exposure to the COVID-19 virus.

Here are some practical steps businesses can take to prevent workplace violence:

  • consult with workers to identify the situations where there’s a risk of violent behaviour, for example:
    • which products or services are in high demand or short supply 
    • where a customer might not receive a positive outcome 
    • where there are long queues for a product or service
  • assess how likely verbal, aggressive or violent customer behaviour might be in those situations.

Then implement solutions. For example:

  • have clear policies and procedures outlining how the business will manage aggressive behaviour
  • show empathy, but stand firm on your zero tolerance policy (for example use signs, audio recordings, telephone on-hold messages)
  • provide instruction, training and supervision to de-escalate aggressive behaviour
  • consider physical barriers to enforce physical distancing and safe entry / exit in the event of aggressive behaviour
  • consider duress alarms, video surveillance, security or assistance from NSW Police for high risk work environments.

Penalties for spitting and coughing

Under the Public Health Act 2010  penalties apply to people who intentionally spit at or cough on 

  • a public official
  • another worker while the worker is at work or travelling to or from work

in a way that would reasonably be likely to cause fear about the spread of COVID-19.

Reporting a breach of the rules

You can report any person failing to follow these rules to Crime Stoppers.

Further information


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