Owner wouldn’t call police over violence


angry customer patient pharmacist pharmacy

The union representing retail workers is attempting to tackle an “epidemic” of abuse from customers against customer-facing workers… to which pharmacy is no exception

The Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association is asking employers and stakeholders to make a commitment to a zero-tolerance approach to customer abuse and violence.

It held its first roundtable discussion in March 2018, and another on July 30, 2019, with the National Retail Association and the Australian Retailers Association.

Jacki Baulch, the senior industrial officer at Professional Pharmacists Australia, told the AJP that alongside the pharmacy assistants represented by the SDA, pharmacists are also likely to cop abuse, and urged employers to address the issue.

“The most frequent cases of patient harassment or even violence centre around refusal to dispense a medicine the patient wants or when the patient thinks the pharmacist is taking too long to dispense their medicine,” she said.

“One I do particularly remember is where a pharmacist was physically attacked by a patient after she declined to dispense a medicine. The pharmacist wanted to call the police but the owner wouldn’t let them because the attacker was a regular customer. 

“Unfortunately the patient continued to harass the pharmacist whenever they came into the pharmacy. 

“When the pharmacist contacted us we advised them to call the police. The police ended up talking to the patient and they did not return to the pharmacy.

“We do hear stories of pharmacists being attacked or harassed, but they tend to brush it off and see it as just part of being a pharmacist,” Ms Baulch said.

“They usually report it as a customer yelling and swearing at them. This is not acceptable for any worker—including pharmacists. We all deserve a safe workplace.

“Employers have a legal obligation to attempt to provide a safe working environment and that staff be trained to deal with difficult patients as well as having processes and procedures in place to minimise instances of abuse, harassment and violence and certainly to ensure that difficult situations do not escalate.”

The SDA National Secretary, Gerard Dwyer, said, “Any type of abuse on the job is completely unacceptable, and when you have 85% of retail staff reporting they have been subjected to verbal abuse from a customer and 14% reporting physical violence – you know we’ve got an epidemic on our hands.”

“Retail and fast food workers have told us they routinely have customers swearing and yelling at them, spitting in their faces or threatening them, simply for doing their jobs.

“By bringing together employers and important stakeholders, we’re aiming to create industry-wide solutions to this customer abuse epidemic.”

Readers who are distressed can contact the Pharmacists’ Support Service on 1300 244 910.

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