A mother has taken to Facebook to share how her teenage daughter was “harassed” by a customer for not wearing gloves while working at Coles during the coronavirus crisis.
Year 11 student Hayley Evans was confronted by an “aggressive” customer while working on the checkout at Manly Corso Coles, on Sydney's Northern Beaches.
Her mum, Kate Munn, told Yahoo News Australia the customer asked her daughter why she wasn’t wearing gloves. When Hayley, 16, informed the customer gloves were optional and she had been using hand sanitiser, the customer began to threaten to take photos of her.
“He got really aggressive and started to scan his own items,” Ms Munn said before adding that as he left the store another staff member overheard him on the phone to the police.
“He just started overreacting and got louder and louder.”
The Australian government’s COVID-19 hygiene practices for supermarkets say staff should wash their hands regularly for up to 30 seconds, but when it isn’t practical, use an alcohol-based sanitiser.
“Washing hands regularly or using alcohol-based hand rub will offer more protection against COVID-19 than wearing gloves,” the practices say.
“If you are feeling well, there is currently no need to wear gloves, other than in line with usual supermarket practice (such as food handling, deli).
“Wearing gloves can lead to complacency and reduced hand washing, potentially increasing the risk of contracting the virus.”
‘Completely inappropriate’ to take anxiety out on children, mum says
Ms Munn said she was proud of the way her 16-year-old daughter handled the incident, choosing not to react to the irate customer.
“She was very calm, she didn’t engage, she didn’t get defensive,” the mum said.
Ms Munn posted about the incident in a local Facebook group and said her motivation to share the story was to highlight the abuse and level of hysteria that essential front line workers were currently facing, such as those at supermarkets.
“When I initially put up the post on a local Manly Facebook group... I was inundated with commentary and direct messages from people who had family members or children themselves abused and [affected] by the COVID-19 hysteria,” she said.
The mother said that while she understood Australia was facing unfamiliar territory, there was no excuse for customers to behave aggressively to customer-service workers, especially when a lot of them are under 18.
“There is a level of anxiety in general that we’re not familiar with and it may be causing people to react irrationally, but taking out that anxiety and fear and frustration on children is completely inappropriate.
“Let’s humanise the people who are putting themselves at risk every day to make sure we can eat.
“The whole toilet paper debacle seems to have settled down now, but that doesn’t mean that the pressure on retail workers has diminished”.
Ms Munn said Coles had been “spectacular” in dealing with the situation and communicating COVID-19 measures to her daughter.
“Coles themselves, the management, her store manager and corporate have been amazing, it’s really encouraging to know that my daughter has been so well supported,” the mum said.
“It feels me with confidence to know that staff are being looked after internally – they all weather the storm.”
Ms Munn also praised her daughter who headed back to work today and hadn’t let the incident disrupt her part-time job.
“I did have some reservations that there would be an incident with the COVID-19 hysteria, but I had every confidence in her being able to handle herself appropriately,” she said.
“She’s the coolest kid I know, she’s just really pragmatic.”
Yahoo News Australia has contacted Coles for comment on the matter.
“There are thousands of your fellow Australians who are working tirelessly across our stores everyday,” the ad taken out by Coles, Woolworths, Aldi and IGA read.
“We ask that you treat these dedicated people with the courtesy and respect they deserve.
“No-one working or shopping in any of our stores should experience abuse or aggressive behaviour.”
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