Unruly Customers, Fall-out from Pandemic, Forcing Major Chains to Evaluate Worker Safety

18 Jul, 2022 Liz Carey


Seattle, WA (WorkersCompensation.com) – Citing worker safety concerns, Starbucks and Walmart have announced that they will be implementing changes.  

On Monday, Starbucks announced it will be closing 16 stores at the end of the month because of safety concerns reported by employees.  

The coffee company said that it will permanently close stores where workers have reported drug-related and other safety incidents, including incidents that involved customers or members of the public.  

Stores slated for closure included six in Seattle, Wash., six in Los Angeles, Cal., two in Portland, Ore., and one each in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. A spokesman with the company said the process has been in the works for several months, and that the incidents were reported by employees during outreach sessions earlier this year.  

"This really began several months ago, when Howard Schultz returned as CEO," the spokesperson said. "We began to have conversations with partners and local leaders across the country about how to improve partner experience and what it was like to work in stores and then how to empower them to better improve the customer experience." 

In a letter to employees from Debbie Stroud and Denise Nelson, senior vice presidents of U.S. operations, the company said it would work hard to make the create a safe, welcoming and kind workplace.  

“You’ve been open and honest with us about your experience – from what you need to feel your best at work, to the many inspirational and heartfelt examples of how you are creating memorable moments for one another and our customers,” the pair wrote. “You’re also seeing firsthand the challenges facing our communities – personal safety, racism, lack of access to healthcare, a growing mental health crisis, rising drug use, and more. With stores in thousands of communities across the country, we know these challenges can, at times, play out within our stores too. We read every incident report you file – it’s a lot.”  

The company said it would address store design, including adjusting store formats, furniture layouts, hours of operation, staffing or “testing store-specific solutions like occupancy sensors, new alarm systems, Lyft at Work, or partnering with local Outreach Workers.” The company also said it would modify operations, close restrooms or even permanently close stores where safety was no longer possible.  

In addition, the company said, it would provide robust safety training on how to de-escalate situations, as well as training on active shooter situations, mental health first aid training and other issues during store trainings in August.  

The company said it will also provide benefits to support worker mental health, and benefits to create emotional and financial safety.  

Trainings are not in response to an increase in people coming into stores with guns, said AJ Jones II, Starbucks’ senior vice president of global communications and public affairs.  

"We have to think about what's best for our partners to keep them safe and to think through active shooter scenarios,” Jones told Axios. “That is something that definitely has become a new reality for our partners." 

Retail and food firms have felt the impact of unruly behavior from customers, thanks in part to the pandemic. Retail and food workers have borne the brunt of customer attacks since May of 2020.  

In response, Walmart announced it would launch an effort to train its workers on mental health issues. As part of Mental Health Awareness month in May, Walmart launched Mental Health First Aid training to teach associates how to identify, understand and respond to people struggling with mental health challenges.  

Walmart said the training program would be available virtually and in-person to prepare its associates to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental health struggles in order to provide direct assistance and support, as well as properly reach out to emergency services on someone’s behalf, implement Mental Health First Aid Action Plans and access emotional well-being benefits and resources.  

The company said it would also continue to support the mental health of its associates.  

“This is just the latest example of how we are reinforcing our commitment to the mental and emotional well-being of our associates,” the company said on its website. “We will continue to offer 24/7 confidential counseling services with licensed therapists at no cost to all associates and their family members, and we will continue to offer our associates the opportunity to get connected anytime of the day, with confidential and anonymous virtual support groups with people who are struggling with similar issues.” 

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    • Liz Carey

      Liz Carey has worked as a writer, reporter and editor for nearly 25 years. First, as an investigative reporter for Gannett and later as the Vice President of a local Chamber of Commerce, Carey has covered everything from local government to the statehouse to the aerospace industry. Her work as a reporter, as well as her work in the community, have led her to become an advocate for the working poor, as well as the small business owner.

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