Retail, public-facing workers say they're taking the brunt of pandemic fatigue

Kurtis Belanger was at work on Saturday at his Calgary fitness store when a customer knocked at the door, looking for dumbbells and weights.

Sociologist says people are struggling to manage emotions with no clear end in sight to pandemic

Retail worker describes customer hitting him with her car

2 years ago
Duration 0:54
Kurtis Belanger was working at a Calgary fitness store when he asked a customer to apply hand sanitizer before shopping. The incident ended with the customer hitting Belanger with her car.

Kurtis Belanger was at work on Saturday at a Calgary fitness store when a customer knocked at the door, looking for dumbbells and weights.

He informed the woman that that particular product was not in stock, but she still asked to come in to look. Belanger complied, but asked the woman to first use hand sanitizer at the store's front station, as requested on a sign outside the business.

The woman quickly became hostile, Belanger said, cursing at him. She left the store, continued to swear at Belanger and gave him the middle finger, and spat on the store's front window.

Belanger took out his phone out of his pocket to record the woman's license plate. But as he took down the plate, the woman quickly reversed, clipping him in the side of the leg with her car before speeding off.

  • WATCH | See Kurtis Belanger's scary encounter with a customer in the video above.

"It was pretty aggressive on her end," Belanger said, who reported the incident to police.

Belanger said that during the course of the pandemic, multiple sales associates have been screamed at, called names and have even been threatened with violence.

Kurtis Belanger, sales associate at The Fitness Factory in Calgary, says he understands people are going through a difficult time — but wants the continued verbal assaults from frustrated customers to stop. (Helen Pike/CBC)

"We run a small business, and to stay afloat and to stay open we need to make sure that we are following by all these guidelines," he said.

"And a lot of people do not respect that or realize that, so we get a lot of hassle, almost every single day, about our mask guidelines."

Calgary police said they did respond to the complaint in question, which has since been resolved. However, they were unable to provide any information on charges or tickets in connection to the incident.

People struggling to manage emotions, sociologist says

Caroline McDonald-Harker, a sociologist at Mount Royal University, said that during periods of massive societal upheaval, people are often dealing with unresolved feelings they are unable to manage.

"People are dealing with major mental health issues, with financial challenges they've not ever experienced," McDonald-Harker said. "Because this pandemic is so prolonged with no end in sight, people are frustrated.

"When they don't have a defined end date, it's difficult for a lot of people to manage their emotions."

McDonald-Harker said that bystanders to fraught situations should try not to escalate tensions, as such events can often lead to a domino effect throughout society.

"I don't necessarily recommend people engage with them. It's not their job to enforce that," she said. "But if they're not stable, the worst thing you can do is be confrontational with them."

Restaurateurs ask for compliance

Alex Mueller, general manager of Alumni Sandwiches, said that during this period of delivery-only service, some patrons have come into the restaurant not wearing masks.

"It's the same thing over and over. Groups coming in, a lot of them don't have masks, and give attitude," he said.

A note outside the The Fitness Factory in Calgary requests patrons sanitize their hands before touching equipment within. One patron walked past the sign and became verbally aggressive with sales associate Kurtis Belanger when he requested she comply. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Restaurants and pubs will be allowed to invite diners back Feb. 8, though physical distancing requirements, activity restrictions, group size limitations and masking will all be in place.

Mueller said he was asking people to mindful of the fact that people in the service industry have been placed in a challenging position during the pandemic.

"We're people as well. We need these jobs, so we're putting ourselves at risk as well," he said.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, called for Albertans to be respectful of one another — even if they don't agree — during a press conference held last week. (Government of Alberta)

Tanya Brown, owner of the Blackfoot Truckstop Diner, said guests have not been overly aggressive, though some have walked out the door after being asked to comply with guidelines.

"I just hope that everyone can still follow the rules, and hopefully we can open more up as things progress and go back to normalcy," she said.

Speaking Jan. 26, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical officer of health, urged Albertans to support one another even though many may be feeling pandemic fatigue.

"I know that we are all tired, stressed and frustrated," Hinshaw said. "There's no one right way forward to navigate this pandemic, and it's natural to sometimes disagree about what that right path is.

"We need to talk to each other, listen to each other and work to support each other even if we don't always agree."

Hinshaw said that the majority of Albertans continue to follow the restrictions currently in place.

"The more of us who follow the measures in place every day, the faster we'll actually be able to get to a point where we can ease restrictions," she said. "It's in all of our best interests for us to work together to that end."

With files from Helen Pike