Sam Purvis, Managing Director at The Compass Partnership, HR, employment law and learning & development specialist, discusses how a company can ensure its employees are not subjected to physical or verbal abuse by its customers.
Ensuring that customers receive the highest levels of professional and courteous service is essential to maintaining a first-class business reputation. This is not just imperative from a commercial point of view but also for attracting and retaining the best employee talent.
Being customer-facing in any form can be a highly rewarding role, but it can also bring risks when employees are subjected to physical or verbal abuse from angry or frustrated customers.
Under health and safety legislation, an employer has a statutory duty to protect staff and provide a safe working environment, which includes taking steps to assess any risk and prevent foreseeable harm. Where a risk is identified, the employer must take all reasonable steps to eliminate or prevent the risk from occurring.
Whether staff work in an environment where risks to their physical safety are higher, such as in hospitality where customers consuming alcohol can become physically abusive, to employees handling calls and interacting with customers who may encounter verbal abuse – the process and legal expectation for identifying the risk and preventing it is the same.
Aside from the reputational damage that could occur, the impact on levels of employee satisfaction, motivation and staff turnover could have a very detrimental effect on the organisation. Sickness absence levels and even employment tribunal claims could also increase.
When the Equality Act 2010 was first introduced, the legislation included protection from third-party harassment, which was repealed shortly afterwards. However, in its July 2021 response to the consultation on sexual harassment in the workplace, the government proposed the introduction of specific workplace protection against third-party harassment. Without such legislation, it becomes more difficult for employees to hold their employers accountable for discrimination or harassment by third parties. A confirmed date for when the new third-party harassment laws will come into effect is not yet known.
Most employers make the protection of their staff a priority without the need to do so from a legislative point of view. Detailed and regular risk assessments alongside specific employee training on how to respond to and de-escalate abusive or aggressive behaviour from customers, as well as visitors to business premises, is a must.
Employees should also be made aware of any employee support groups that are available to them, who to speak to regarding any concerns, where and how to report any incidents, and the process for making a complaint. Regular people manager training in how to identify, respond to, and handle the abuse of team members by customers or visitors is also critically important.
To find out how The Compass Partnership can support your business with all its HR needs, email Sam directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or for more information on The HR Toolkit, visit www.compasshrtoolkit.com