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Counter rage

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Consumers are fed up and they won't take bad service any more. The Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia (COSBOA) once called it counter rage and it ranges from abuse to threats of legal action to actual physical violence.

In some circumstances, however, shoppers are annoyed for the wrong reasons and often don't know the law they quote to retail staff.

The problem is that the staff and small business owner often do not know the law either.

Consumers are more value-seeking and more aware of their rights, but sometimes try to force shopkeepers and staff beyond their legal obligations.

Members of small business associations have been complaining about the rising incidence of counter rage and believe it will be an ever growing problem unless something is done to check it.

COSBOA said it was time for some concrete facts on violence in relation to small businesses. COSBOA linked up with the Institute of Criminology in Canberra to gain an idea of the types of crime being committed against small businesses and the quantity of it.

The Retail Traders Association tackled the less violent side of the problem based on a more preventive approach.

"Customers often want a refund at a drop of a hat," an RTA spokesman said. "In fact, one of our members had a customer try and return a cooked turkey after Christmas as the customer had estimated that it would not feed a family of six as advertised.

"In many cases, retailers have not explained to staff what their rights and legal obligations are, and that's because the owners don't know them themselves.”.

The report, Violence at Work, examined how employees could be subjected to violence under four categories: criminal, client, workplace harassment and job function.

There is concern about the legal implications for employers, as the definition of violence ranges from the very physical to swearing, to abuse and even to the old silent treatment.

The idea that an employer must take steps to protect an employee from a customer or fellow employee who calls them a bad name could be seen as ridiculous..

The bottom line for employers was that if an employee was badly affected by counter rage and it was shown that the boss had not taken steps to train them to deal with it and to protect staff, there could be serious legal problems. This could be linked the issue to occupational health and safety, which all employers should be concerned about.

The lesson for an employer is this: be mindful of your legal obligations to your employees. If you are unclear about what they are, seek out help from an expert.

Published on: Wednesday, June 24, 2009

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