Planning to Prevent Workplace Violence in Retail

A 2022 U.S. government study found an annual average of 1.3 million nonfatal workplace violence incidents between 2015 and 2019. This is a rate of eight nonfatal violent crimes per 1,000 workers aged 16 or older. In addition to the safety risk to employees and customers alike, workplace violence incidents are costly to retailers.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health estimates that workplace violence costs employers more than $120 billion annually in claims, litigation, added security, staffing, communications and other expenses.

Despite these statistics, many retailers still don’t have functional workplace violence plans. If they do have a plan, it’s likely that it hasn’t been recently updated, and many employees may not know it exists. My 35-plus years of experience in retail, most of that time being in loss prevention, has taught me a lot. Now, as the retail consultant at Acuity Insurance, I work with retail customers – from large multilocation retailers to small mom-and-pop shops – to help manage risks like this.

If you’re looking to create or update a workplace violence plan to help mitigate risk, enhance safety and protect your bottom line, here are a few important considerations:


Consult with the Experts

It’s important to consult with the experts before creating or revising your organization’s workplace violence plan. To start, consider consulting with these organizations:

  • Local law enforcement officials may be able to provide you with relevant local ordinances to guide your plan. Many local police departments have community service officers who are happy to partner with local businesses to improve store safety.
  • Retail trade organizations such as the National Retail Federation and the Retail Industry Leaders Association offer training and relevant materials.
  • Check with your insurance provider to see how they can support your efforts. My role at Acuity is to help retailers with these types of undertakings. Some insurance companies have loss control or loss prevention professionals who can help.

Additionally, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) offers several helpful tools that advise on items like risk factors, prevention programs, training and more to support retailers’ workplace violence prevention efforts.

Ensure your Plan Includes these Essential Elements

It’s important to keep in mind that violent incidents go beyond interactions between employees and customers. Employer/employee, employee/employee interactions and employee challenges outside of work are other potential causes of workplace violence incidents. You’ll want to consider scenarios for each when preparing for potential workplace violence.

To address potential employee-to-employee issues, consider having a mediation program to help resolve employee disputes. For employee-to-customer interactions, you may consider providing training for your employees related to interpersonal skills and de-escalation techniques. To support employees to manage situations outside of work, you may consider offering an employee assistance program that helps with counseling, work-life issues and resource identification.

While the specifics of each workplace’s plans will vary, an employer should consider including these elements in their plans:

Review your termination policy. A potential inciting incident can be due to retribution from a former employee. Make sure your termination policy is respectful and does not cause unnecessary embarrassment. Some things to consider implementing during a termination are allowing an employee to collect their belongings when their peers are not watching; reminding the employee during the process that their situation will not be discussed with others; and never walking a former employee through public areas to shame them.

Train employees in interpersonal skills and de-escalation. Make sure this training is ongoing so it’s fresh in employees’ minds and is provided to everyone, even with employee turnover.

Provide a method for anonymous reporting. Many retailers offer a 1-800 number to help employees feel confident that their concerns will be addressed without penalty. This could be used for an employee sharing concerns about a partner becoming violent, issues with a coworker, or concerns about a particular customer.

Communicate Policies Early and Often

If your company has a workplace violence plan, do you know where it’s located and what’s included in it? Do company employees know what’s expected of them in case of an incident? If the answer to either of these questions is “no,” it’s time to examine how you can more regularly communicate your workplace violence plan. Here are a few ways to regularly communicate the topic:

Address relevant points during employee onboarding. Make sure they know where they can find the plan and what’s expected of them during an incident.

Consider whether a store safety committee makes sense for your business. Some safety committees find value in choosing a monthly safety tip and communicating this to employees on the breakroom bulletin board or employee newsletters.

Regularly include workplace violence prevention methods during AM/PM huddles. This keeps the topic top-of-mind and allows for regular dialogue.

Supply register staff with a short flipchart that they can access, if needed. The flipchart could include details like examples for customer-facing announcements, a list of critical questions needed to gather information or emergency phone numbers and evacuation procedures.

A well-thought-out workplace violence plan is one thing a retailer can do to help prevent incidents before they happen and to potentially mitigate damage as much as possible if they do occur. By leaning on experts, including essential information and ensuring adequate communication of the plan, you can feel good that you’ve done your part to mitigate the impact of workplace violence in your business. 

Aaron Stamm is a Retail Consultant at Acuity, which he joined in 2017, bringing with him more than 35 years of experience in a broad range of retail. Throughout his retail career, loss prevention has been a consistent focus. With Acuity, he provides retailers with actionable insights and real value to help their businesses.

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