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Don't argue with shoppers who don't wear a mask, CDC advises retailers

Workers dealing with customers who don't want to wear a mask are urged to watch for signs of potential violence, but to walk away before it gets there.

Videos posted across social media have shown multiple instances of retail workers trying to get customers to wear facemasks during the coronavirus pandemic, whether it's a store policy or a local mandate. In some cases, the episodes have been known to turn violent or destructive.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released guidance for employers and their workers about how to deal with these situations if it appears they will turn violent. One of the key pieces of advice: walk away.

Employers are encouraged to get ahead of a potential employee-customer encounter by using advanced notices such as signs, advertising and offering social distancing options such as curbside pickup. 

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Workers should receive training on recognizing threats -- things like yelling and swearing, clenched fists, heavy breathing, pacing and a fixed stare -- the CDC says. The more clues that are seen, the greater the risk of violence. Training should also include conflict resolution and nonviolent responses, CDC said.

If staffing permits, CDC says two workers should work as a team to encourage the customer to follow COVID-19 policies. 

But even with that, things can escalate. In those situations, the CDC says workers should not argue with a potentially violent customer. They should contact a manager and, if possible, go to a safe area -- preferably a room that locks from the inside and has a second exit. The CDC also says not to force anyone who appears to be upset or violent to follow the store's COVID-19 policies.

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