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The Path of Non-resistance in Workplace Robberies: Reducing the Risk of Customer Injury

May 01, 2015 (4 min read)

Robbery—the crime involving sticky fingers that can get your entire hand amputated as a penalty in some cultures—is the leading cause of occupational homicide in the workplace and a known risk factor for employee injury. Some of the highest robbery-related homicide rates come out of the retail and service industries, and the risk of injury overall increases when employees resist perpetrators. The skyrocketing nature of this problem has led employers to implement workplace programs that seek to reduce robbery-related homicides and injuries by training employees how to respond to perpetrators during a crime.

However, very little research has been conducted into the outcome for customers when employees resist perpetrators. A sampling of cases from the LexisNexis databases reveals what can happen when an employee resists the perpetrator:

> A customer was injured in a grocery store by a robber's gunshot in a gunfire affray between the store owner's employee and two armed robbers when the employee resisted the robbers by attempting to get the drop on the robbers and to arrest them.

> A customer was standing in a market when a masked gunman entered the building and pointed a gun at the store owner, who attempted to grab the gunman's revolver. But the gunman was able to get away and, while he fled, he shot the customer in the hip.

> The sole security guard at a store was struggling with the suspected shoplifter when the customer attempted to assist the guard and was stabbed by the shoplifter.

Does employee resistance increase the risk for employees, while having little or no effect on the risk for customers, or is the risk also increased for customers? A recent study, “Does Employee Resistance During a Robbery Increase the Risk of Customer Injury?”, reported in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, sheds light on these inquiries.

How the study was set up

While the authors of the study acknowledged that previous research indicated that customers were more likely to be injured than employees (during all violent crimes taking place in a business), with a slightly reduced risk to be injured (compared to employees) when only robberies were examined, they sought to isolate those incidences where only the employees resisted the perpetrators.

Resistance is defined as noncooperation, argumentative, or physically aggressive toward the perpetrator.

By quantifying the risk for customers and whether that risk was also increased for customers it might be better understood if workplace violence prevention programs may have an extended benefit to customers and consequently to business owners, by reducing both customer injury and thus owner liability.

The researchers examined police reports for the years 2008-2012 for one larger metropolitan police department (the location of which was not identified). Out of 67,000 businesses, 2239 had at least one documented robbery during this period. The police narratives from these reports were evaluated for evidence of employee resistance, primarily non-co-operation, argumentativeness and physical aggression towards the perpetrator. Of these robberies, 697 had at least one customer and one employee present and reported employee resistance, which qualified it for the study.

Key findings

Of the 697 robberies in question:

Retail accounted for 76 percent, with the service industry accounting for 24 percent.

The overall rate of customer injury was 11 percent (75 customer injuries out of 697 robberies).

> In 32 robberies where the employee resisted, 8 customers were injured (25 percent).

> In 665 robberies where the employee did not resist, 67 customers were injured (10 percent).

> Employee resistance increased customer injury risk by 160%.  

534 (or 77 percent) involved gun use by the perpetrator. When perpetrators used firearms, the risk of customer injury decreased because employees would be less likely to resist.

The rate of workplace robberies was highest during the months of December through February (27 percent) and during the hours of 5:00 p.m. to 10:59 p.m. (31 percent).

Limitations of study

Because data was extracted from police narratives, the study had to be limited to only those narratives that provided enough information to include them in the study; thus, only 697 robberies were analyzed. The number of customers present at the time of the robbery was not provided in more than 20% of the reports. This may or may not be significant. While earlier studies showed no influence of numbers of employees on outcome of robberies, it's not known whether customer numbers might influence outcome. Employee resistance was obtained only when the description was included in the report. Some instances of resistance may not have been documented in the reports and thus that incident would have been omitted from the study. Furthermore, this study was limited to only one police department. A study of another police department’s reports might result in a different conclusion.

Customer focus

While workplace violence prevention programs that encourage employees to not resist perpetrators have significantly reduced employee injury, these same programs could significantly reduce injury to customers if employees are made aware of the increased risk for both employees and customers. By encouraging employees to practice non-resistance, employers can help reduce the risk of injuries to customers and the risk to the business itself in terms of liability costs.

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