The Bureau of Labor Statistics has stated that workplace violence is responsible for 2% of work-related injuries and 16% of workplace-related fatalities.
This violence is often caused by robberies and disgruntled workers, but if you’re in front-line customer service chances it’s possible you’ve been threatened with violence by a customer on more than one occasion.
Violence against employees is behind 20% of workplace homicides and the majority of non-fatal incidents. As a professional, you want to provide excellent customer service, but in some cases it’s simply not worth the risk. If you feel like you’re in danger, your security comes first.
According to the Bader Scott Injury Lawyers legal team, the threat of customer violence is an occupational hazard for workers in many occupations, but especially in retail work. In this line of work it’s essential to understand how to respond to violence and the threat of violence so you can stay safe.
What to Do if You Are Threatened
Being threatened with physical harm by a customer can be a frightening experience, and you may not know what to do if it happens. The first step in protecting yourself is to understand your company’s policy regarding customer threats. There should be a clear policy that details the steps involved in threats that are received over the phone and those that are made in person.
Threats Made Over the Phone
Making verbal threats over the phone is a crime. Threatening to harm or kill another person constitutes a criminal threat, and it is not protected by the constitutional right to free speech. A criminal threat can also be delivered through email, and in some states even a non-verbal gesture can constitute a criminal threat.
If you are threatened over the phone, you should immediately disengage with the customer. It is your job to help your customers, not to allow them to threaten you. Depending on the details of your company’s policy, you can hang up the phone or have the customer transferred to a manager or a member of the security team.
How to Handle In Person Threats
All of the above applies to being threatened in your place of business, but there are additional steps. First of all, if you are being threatened, stay where other employees can see you and hear what is going on. Call a manager and don’t try to de-escalate the situation yourself.
You, your manager, or another coworker should call 911. Your management needs to take any threats seriously. Your management needs to call the police if you are threatened, but if they don’t you should still call them yourself. Law enforcement officers are trained to advise you what to do next.
Most threats don’t amount to anything, but attacks on employees still happen far too often.
In the past two years in the United States alone the following incidents have taken place.
- A 24-year-old Memphis man was arrested for second-degree murder after shooting a Verizon employee four times in the back.
- A 37-year-old ex-con in Florida was arrested and charged with first-degree murder and other offenses after shooting a Burger King employee because his meal took too long.
- An Oregon man was charged with assault and many other crimes after he threatened customers and employees in Cafe Rio.
There have also been several other incidents involving customer service employees killing violent customers in self-defense. If you are threatened over the phone in person or over the phone, be sure and document every detail of the threat so you can give this information to police. You also may need this information if you end up in court.
Remember, a customer who threatens or harms employees who are just doing their job is not a person you need to do business with. Anyone who threatens you should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, and you may also want to file a civil lawsuit against them for any damages they’ve caused like medical bills, emotional trauma, or the cost of therapy.