WorkWise: Spitting at cashiers and other abuse

02/06/2014 1:31 PM

02/06/2014 1:35 PM

During the December holidays a cashier looked unhappy. She conceded that 1) a customer had spit on her and 2) this is common behavior toward all cashiers beginning at Thanksgiving. I knew there was no HR on site, but what about a security guard? “No,” she said. Health and sanitation inspectors, drop by.

Customer abuse of employees isn’t new, and neither are employers who abrogate responsibility. Are employees stranded?

Scott Behren, employment attorney at Behren Law Firm in Weston, Fla., says that “Spitting is battery and I recommend calling the police. ... They’d probably respond (faster) than HR, an employer or a lawyer.”

Tara Fishler, founder of Customized Training Solutions in New York, N.Y., would concur.

“I’d advise the person or colleague with a cell phone to take a picture of the customer and possibly try to get the license plate number, if the person drove,” she advises. “Document the incident immediately and, if possible, have other employees or customers corroborate. Ideally, the employee should inform the owner/manager as soon as possible. If the owner/manager can’t or won’t handle the situation to the employee's satisfaction, report to the police.”

A member of a large Illinois police department stated that while this incident, if intentional, is a misdemeanor battery in his state, it might be an assault elsewhere. He further stated that if the offender is still on scene and the victim will cooperate with the investigation, sign complaints and appear in court, an officer may make an arrest. If the offender has left the premises, an arrest isn’t mandatory without a name, address and date of birth. However, a warrant officer may be able to retrieve that information from a license so that the victim may seek a summons or an arrest warrant. He added that if a worker in a private company feels unprotected by his employer, he must work this civil matter through an attorney.

ABUSE THROUGH TECHNOLOGY

While not meeting customers face-to-face might protect you from spitting, it doesn’t protect you from other forms of abuse. Some employers don’t tolerate it. Dave Munson, president of Saddleback Leather Co. LLC, a leathergoods business in San Antonio, Tex., has encountered verbal abuse over shipment deliveries and unwillingness to add something free, such as upgraded shipping, to an order.

“We installed a button to fire a customer,” he continues, “which flags their email, mailing address and credit card number. They get this message: ‘Yours is not going through.’” However, prior to the button, he fired by telephone.

“A fellow called about the picture he was going to send in of his new Saddleback Leather briefcase on his Rolls Royce,” Munson says. “He told me about how important he was, (then) became demeaning, bitter and demanding.”

How did Munson respond? “You know, I don't think you'll ever be happy owning one of my bags and, honestly, I don't want people like you owning them,” he asserted. “I want nice and kind people carrying my things. So, I'm going to refund all of your money.”

He also promised to watch for the man in future orders, which he wouldn’t fill.

Sandy Bodeau, owner of Sira & Mara Accessories, a jeweler in Smyrna, Del., doesn’t have a button but does take over. Her business communicates via email. “If one of my (employees) is crying because a person has been insulting her,” she says, “I don’t care how much money that person is spending with us.” She asks people to change their language or their communication will end.

“Most American businesses are permitting people to be jerks (and be) rewarded for wrong behavior,” Munson comments. “We're standing up and doing our little part to change that.”

Mildred L. Culp of WorkWise® welcomes your questions at culp@workwise.net.

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