The May 2000 massacre of Wendy's employees in Queens, N.Y., that left five employees dead and two seriously injured and in which the robbers also stole the surveillance tape, illustrated the dangers that retail employees face every day. While most retail workers go to work and come home unscathed, a surprising number of violent crimes do occur in retail establishments.
In fact, in the same year that the Wendy's massacre occurred, there were a total of 674 workplace homicides, which accounted for 11 percent of the total 5,915 fatal work injuries in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries. The figures show that the highest number of non-fatal violent workplace incidents aren't in the industries you would expect, such as construction, agriculture or mining -- rather, they're in the retail trade and service industries.
PROTECTING WORKERS AT CLOSING TIME
Obviously, with so many violent incidents occurring each day, retailers must take steps to protect workers. Many of the more obvious ones will already be in place, such as CCTV and the presence of security guards. But other techniques that depend more on common sense should also be implemented, especially during store closing, when workers are particularly vulnerable.
Taking the time to ensure that employees are protected against the dangers inherent at closing can pay off in a big way. This basic checklist can be modified to suit your individual store's needs:
- Once closing time arrives, the doors should be locked and a guard or employee assigned to open the doors only to allow remaining customers to exit. No one should be allowed to enter or re-enter the store after the official closing hour.
- Once all customers appear to have left the store, a team of at least two employees or guards should check restrooms, dressing rooms or any other place that bad guys could try to secrete themselves, or "hide in," waiting for an opportunity to burglarize the store once everyone else has left the building.
- Workers should leave in pairs at a minimum. As they exit the building, a manager checks their bags to ensure that any of the store's items have been properly paid for and recorded. The same manager keeps an eye out from inside the store to ensure that all workers reach their cars safely. This task does double-duty: It ensures the safety of the staff as they leave the store and allows the manager to watch for any employee who makes a stop at a garbage can or in the freight area to retrieve any stolen items that have been concealed there.
- If the parking area is very large, employees should be encouraged to go together to the closest vehicle and have that driver drop the others at their cars. The employee playing chauffeur should wait until each person has started the car and pulled out to ensure that no one gets stuck in a deserted lot. If the employees walk, rather than drive, from the store, they should be encouraged to go in pairs or groups.
Once most of the staff has gone home, managers or other employees often have to perform certain closing procedures, usually having to do with cash accounting. One person should not stay alone in the store to do the tally and prepare the deposit. The buddy system must be in place to protect workers who are closing. A lone employee is an excellent target for a robber who is familiar with the store's procedures and who uses the isolation as a way to steal. There is always the potential for the employee to be injured or killed in the process.