September 29, 2023
What to do when customers become violent

Customer violence is on the rise, and the instances are more and more troubling. It’s in the news, but it’s also on the shop floor.

UFCW Local 247 members report feeling increasingly anxious about what might happen when they go to work their shift at a grocery store. Putting up with customer violence and abuse is not what anyone signed up for.

While it might be naive to think all social problems can be stopped from entering a grocery store, there are things that can be done to protect retail workers in their workplaces. For our part, we are working on a union campaign focussed on member education, enforcement, and elevating our members’ voices on this very issue (more on this to come!).

The question we often get is, what do I do when a customer becomes violent? So here is some general information for our members.

Customer violence is workplace violence

Workplace violence has a specific definition under Section 4.27 of the BC Occupational Health and Safety Regulations. Workplace violence includes customer violence and is defined as any physical violence or attempted physical violence, and any threatening statement or behaviour which gives a worker reasonable cause to believe they are at risk of injury.

While customers can be rude and verbally abusive, that only becomes workplace violence when it threatens a worker in a way that causes them to reasonably believe they are at risk of injury. There may be other ways to deal with those situations under your Collective Agreement.

What to do when customers become violent

When customers become violent, there are steps any member can take:

Get to safety

If you feel you are in danger, don’t hesitate to get somewhere safe. Nothing should be considered more important than your immediate safety and health.

Call for help

Use the store paging system to call for assistance from a manager (at Superstore, for example, this is Code 88) and/or Call 911 for a response from emergency services (police or ambulance)

Call 911 if…

  • It is happening now, and you see it taking place, or
  • The threat remains (i.e. a violent person left but could reasonably come back)

Get First Aid

If an employee is seriously hurt during an incident, the employer must provide first aid, arrange for transport to a medical facility, and notify WorkSafeBC.

If it is a less serious injury, the employer must provide appropriate first aid and refer to a doctor if necessary.

Please note that contact with blood or other bodily fluids require urgent professional medical assistance.

Report the incident

To your employer

Workers are required by law to report to their employer (manager or supervisor) any hazard that is likely to endanger the worker or any person and any unsafe work condition or act. This includes customer violence or threats of violence.

Later, you may wish to provide a written statement, but this is not immediately required in most circumstances. We generally advise against providing a statement without first seeking advice from your union representative.

To your union

Your UFCW Local 247 union representative is there to give you one-on-one advice and support. We will also work to protect all members by making sure the employer handles the situation properly, notifies the relevant authorities, and correctly investigates, reports, and follows up on the incident.

We will soon be releasing an online reporting form for members to use in these situations. You can call us at 1-800-667-2205

To WorkSafeBC

Whether you were injured or not, WorkSafe BC needs to know what happened so they can ensure the employer takes steps to address the unsafe work conditions.

  • If you are injured, file a WorkSafeBC claim by calling the Teleclaim Contact Centre at 1-888-967-5377
  • If you are not injured, you can make a Safety Report to WorkSafeBC by calling the Prevention Information Line at 1-888-621-7233

Be mindful of the impact of traumatic events

Violent events are often traumatic and can impact your health in ways that aren’t always visible (i.e. psychological wellbeing). This includes the health of those who witnessed the event. In the long-run, if employees do not talk about their responses and feelings about an incident, the impacts of violent events on employees can be extremely harmful.

WorkSafeBC can coordinate critical incident interventions to help people deal with traumatic events at work. Depending on the situation, these can be defusing or debriefing sessions involving one or a number of affected employees. Arranging a critical incident intervention is possible by calling the Critical Response Liaison at 1-888-922-3700 within three weeks of the incident.

Workers can also access trauma counselling through a doctor’s referral, or the confidential Employee Assistance Program provided by the employer.

Mental health conditions due to one or more significant work-related stressors or a traumatic work-related event may qualify for benefits through WorkSafeBC, but there are special conditions related to these kinds of claims.


Your UFCW Local 247 Union Representative is here to talk through whatever situation you are facing.

The above article is general information provided to assist UFCW Local 247 members by educating them around their workplace concerns. It is not legal advice, and we encourage any member facing a situation related to the above information to get in touch with their union representative to talk through how best to handle it.