Protecting Your Workers from Bullying and Harrassment During the COVID-19 Pandemic

When Phase 2 of B.C.’s Restart Plan kicked off in May, restaurants and many small businesses were given the green light to reopen their doors under strict protocols.

So far, the majority of customers have been understanding and cooperative, and recognize the restrictions are a necessary part of this new way of doing business. But unfortunately, some workplaces have encountered customers who object to COVID-19 safety protocols and direct their frustration at workers through verbal aggression, personal attacks, and other forms of bullying and harassment.

As an employer, you’re responsible for ensuring you have a healthy and safe workplace, which includes having procedures in place to respond to bullying and harassment. This responsibility starts with making a commitment to protect your workers.

One Kamloops restaurateur did just that and saw the difference it made to stand up for his staff and implement a zero-tolerance policy for bullying or harassment. It all started when local business owner, Robert Stodola, who runs both Señor Froggy restaurants in Kamloops, found one of his young workers in tears after being the target of unacceptable behaviour. He checked in with the rest of his staff and learned that nearly everyone had experienced similar mistreatment from customers.

Communicate Clear Expectations

The first thing Stodola did in response was to give his staff the long weekend off to relax. Then he put up signage in key locations throughout the restaurants that clearly communicated that bad behaviour toward his workers would not be tolerated. These signs reminded customers that staff were also learning a new way of doing things, but they were showing up every day and doing their best.

Stodola has received considerable attention in the media and says he and his staff have seen a “huge improvement” since the signs went up.

“We made it very clear to the staff — and the public — that we’re going to back up our workers,” says Stodola. “Make sure you’re clear with your customers about your expectations when it comes to their behaviour and following COVID-19 safety protocols while visiting your business.”

We’re in This Together

Supporting your staff isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also good for business. Stodola advises other small business owners to recognize this time is tougher than normal for workers so it’s important to take care of them.

“Your staff are what makes everything work and taking care of them is the best business move you can do,” says Stodola, adding that doing so benefits your ability to retain workers, generate sales, and provide good customer service.

“At the end of the day, we all just need to be kind. The world’s a little different than it was a year ago and everyone is struggling, so make it as easy as you can for everybody. We’re all fighting the same battle and in the same boat. Let’s all row in one direction rather than sabotaging each other. “

Visit to learn more about your responsibilities as an employer and to find resources and tools to help you prevent bullying and harassment in your workplace.