A blog on issues affecting Australia's newsagents, media and small business generally.

Dealing with anti-maskers in small business retail

The latest lockdowns in New South Wales and Queensland have seen small business retailers confronted by anti-maskers out to make a point for their nutty views.

I’ve heard of situations where abuse has been hurled across the counter by customers refusing to wear a mask. In one situation the customer spat on the acrylic shield at the retail counter.

Anti-maskers in-store present a serious challenge for employers as their presence and active engagement make for a possibly unsafe workplace, and it’s our obligation as employers to provide a safe workplace.

While I am no legal expert, I do suggest the following for any retail business owner:

  1. Provide your staff with appropriate personal and business equipment for their protection: screens at the counter, masks, hand sanitiser … all backed by appropriate Covid protection protocols. Keep this updated. For example, have an endless supply of masks available.
  2. Ensure customers know, from front of store signage and social media posts, that masks are required in-store. Use clear signage.
  3. Have masks available at the entrance to the shop for customers, for free.
  4. Demonstrate active understanding of situations where someone may not be able to wear a mask, for health reasons for example.
  5. Have a protocol for dealing with a vocal and / or threatening anti-masker and ensure that all staff know the protocol. This protocol should include a means by which a situation can be easily reported – a specific bell ring, for example.
  6. As the business owner, be engaged in dealing with anti-maskers.
  7. Meet with employees regularly to talk about the situation, to decompress. Make sure they understand and see that you support them.
  8. If the business is being targeted at all, position yourself at the front of the shop to run defence.
  9. The goal has to be to not directly engage with an anti-masker, to avoid making the situation worse, but to get them out of the shop as quickly and efficiently as possible.
  10. Ensure your CCTV is working, so you have evidence or any portable offence.
  11. Engage the police for any unsafe or threatening behaviour.
  12. Appreciate good customers in-store and on social media – celebrate their actions for making the shop safe.
  13. Put the health and safety of employees ahead of what a customer may think is their right to free speech. 

Dealing with anti-maskers in a retail business is all about leadership. The solution has to be set and led by business owners. leaving it to front line retail staff to deal with would be, in my view, an abrogation of responsibility. Show your employees how much you care about them by actively engaging on this issue.

Take the shop to the street. If you are in an area is heightened anti masker activity, take more of your business outside the business, to the footpath and elsewhere. taking business to your customers could make it easier for people stressed at wearing a mask as well as for employees.

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  1. Peter

    This is good practical advice. I especially like point 5. We have had several vocal customers and it would be good to quickly know about this kicking off in the shop.

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