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Dealing with aggressive customers


You need to know what to do to keep yourself, your staff and your customers safe if someone is resistant to reasonable requests or becomes aggressive or violent.

Despite widespread acceptance of COVID-19 mask and vaccine mandates, some people are going to try to skirt the system — and they may overstep the mark in doing so.

Worse, supply chain issues which have been building for some time are only being made worse by the damage to the transcontinental rail link, and people may become frustrated when certain products, especially fresh foods, are no longer available.

According to CCIWA Manager, Employee Relations Advice Centre, Siobhan Griffiths, the most important thing to do if a worker or anyone at your workplace is in immediate danger is to call WA Police on 131 444 without delay.

“It’s not worth risking injury to yourself or others; if someone is threatening you, call the police straight away,” Griffiths says.

“It’s more likely the aggressive person will run off to avoid being arrested rather than hang around waiting for the police to arrive, especially if they’re trying to avoid complying with a mask or vaccine requirement.”

Thankfully, such events should be fairly rare, but some low-level resistance will be more common, so it’s important for business owners is to make sure staff know their rights.

Read more: How to check proof of vaccination

Know your rights, guide your customers

Employees should feel confident knowing that anyone who confronts staff, such as shop assistants, cinema attendants and waiters, about the mandates faces a year in jail or a fine of up to $50,000.

But as always, preventing unpleasant behaviour is better than remedying it after the fact.

"Make sure you put a sign at the entrance to your premises, or in windows or on counters, alerting customers of the potential penalties, and add similar information to social media posts and your website,” Griffiths suggests.

“The more notice you can give your patrons ahead of time that you’re simply complying with government requirements, the less likely you are to face any trouble.”

Read more: My business is an exposure site — what should I do?

The State Government has provided posters and social media tiles for you to download to help you communicate mask and proof of vaccination requirements to customers.

Griffiths recommends you also get your staff to rehearse a basic script of things they can say when dealing with a difficult customer or visitor, or even get them to practice in a roleplay.

If a customer does enter your premises either without a mask or without proof of vaccination (if required), staff should remain calm. It is more likely that staff will remain calm when they have practised what to do before it happens

Approach the customer, remind them of the mask requirements or ask to see their proof as appropriate.

“Don’t make it personal and keep it simple and conciliatory –– but be firm, too. Say something like, ‘Hey, I understand this is difficult for you but it’s difficult for all of us, and part of my job is to follow the government directions. I’d love to be able to help you; I just need you to help me to help you and put your mask on’,” Griffiths says.

See CCIWA’s COVID safety package

How can I check proof of vaccination?

Proof of vaccination from customers, clients or staff can be provided to you via:

  • an immunisation history statement; or  
  • a COVID-19 digital certificate.  

For more see: How to check proof of vaccination 

For general advice on your individual situation call CCIWA’s Employee Relations Advice Centre on (08) 9365 7660 or via [email protected].   

For legal advice specific to your situation, contact our team of Workplace Relations lawyers on (08) 9365 7746 or email [email protected].

Tips for managing quarrelsome customers

  1. Keep your cool. No-one wins fights.
  2. Use calm verbal and non-verbal communication, de-escalation and distraction techniques.
  3. Avoid excessive questioning.
  4. Be aware of your body language – use non-threatening gestures and make eye contact.
  5. Give the visitor personal space.
  6. Take any young people away from the situation if you think it is safe to leave the individual alone.
  7. Seek support from other workers.
  8. If resistance continues, ask the visitor to leave the premises.
  9. Alert security personnel, activate alarms, or call the police.
  10. Retreat to a safe location.

Immediately after an incident occurs at the workplace:  

  • Address immediate safety issues and ensure everyone is safe. 
  • Provide first aid or medical attention where necessary. Provide individual support where required, including psychological support to the victim and other workers.
  • Report criminal acts such as physical assault and threats to harm someone to Police on 131 444. 
  • Complete an incident report so you have a clear record of what happened, including who was affected, who was involved and what happened. 
  • Once you have done the above steps, use the information gathered and consider whether there are any additional measures (including safety measures) that you could put in place if something similar happens again. 

Print these tips for your employees

Tips for quarrelsome customers [PDF 39Kb]

You need to know what to do to keep yourself, your staff and your customers safe if someone is resistant to reasonable requests or becomes aggressive or violent.

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