Retail worker creates Facebook support group for essential employees after she was allegedly attacked by a customer

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WARNING: This post contains graphic images.

(CBS NEWS) – A California retail worker was left with a bloody face and scared to do her job after she was allegedly attacked by a customer earlier this month. Now, Sam Clarke is running a Facebook support group where other employees like her — deemed essential during the coronavirus crisis — are sharing experiences of customers confronting them.

Clarke, who works for sporting goods store Big 5 in Modesto, recently voiced her disappointment with shoppers on her personal Facebook page, saying that retail workers have become “punching bags.” 

“My business has been deemed essential. So myself and my employees put ourselves at risk every day so that people can shop for their needs,” she wrote on April 26. “Well, the public, not all, but too many, hate the guidelines put in place that allow us to do business and keep our jobs. Multiple times a day I get cussed out or argued with.” 

Then in May, she was assaulted by a shopper who police said was “upset about a merchandise pick up.” Clarke claimed it was because they didn’t have a swimming pool for her. She uploaded photos of herself covered in blood and a bruise on her right eye. 

After the incident, she and her roommate Sarah Ghormley made “Retail life during Covid-19.” The Facebook group aims to be “an open platform for retail and front line workers to share their stories and struggles of that they’re going through,” Clarke told CBS News. It has more than 27,000 “likes” and over 1,300 members since it started.

“The group wants consumers to know how hard it is for essential workers to show up to work every day so that shoppers can get their goods,” Clarke said. “And to understand how poorly workers are being treated during this time.”

Tensions have flared between customers and workers over coronavirus-related precautions taken at stores, leaving employees to face insults or even violent incidents. At a Target in a Los Angeles,  a security guard’s arm was broken after he got into a fight with men who he was escorting out for allegedly refusing to wear masks. A Colorado man shot a Waffle House employee one day after staffers told him to wear a face-covering inside the restaurant.

In the Facebook group, many people have documented how they’re being treated. One woman described how a man licked his fingers to separate bills before handing them to her. Another said she felt “humiliated” when she was controlling the flow of customers into her store and people waiting outside on a line were screaming at her, despite communicating the situation. 

The popular slogan “the customer is always right” doesn’t apply here, Clarke said. 

“We have multiple upset shoppers every day who do not like the guidelines put in place, however, there is nothing we can do and we simply apologize for the inconvenience,” Clarke said. “It doesn’t do much to ease the tempers of some, but our hands are tied.”

She’s received support from corporate over how she’s been handling those tense situations. According to Clarke, workers have gotten the freedom to ask customers “who don’t comply or are making sense to leave.” 

Clarke said she’s slowly feeling better but feels on edge at work when someone is upset at the guidelines. She wants people to know that retail employees “are all working very hard” during the coronavirus crisis – and only asks for some patience. 

“It’s not easy for us to wear masks all day long and work with very minimal staff. We are exhausted mentally and physically. If shoppers can come prepared in knowing what they want, bring a face mask, patience and BE KIND to workers, is would make our days so much better,” she said. 

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