In the past we’ve discussed the lawsuits that security guards and their firms face around the country, a trend that’s grown in recent years along with the number of confrontations. Most of these lawsuits involve alleged assault, illegal detainment, injuries, and other serious incidents like this. However, there’s another kind of action that may get security guards in trouble, one that’s a lot easier to prove if someone happens to be recording: What they say to people.
A recent example in Portland saw a man file a lawsuit against a security staffing company and management firm at the Moda Center venue for using racist language. The security guard’s physical actions weren’t a problem in this case: He was fulfilling his job by trying to stop someone from illegally selling tickets outside of the venue. But in the course of that duty, the guard used some very specific racist language that’s hard to take any other way (and then repeated it, and then confirmed to his supervisor that he said it, which makes for a very strong case).
This isn’t the first time guards have gotten into trouble for things they’ve said. In 2018 a guard was promptly fired by a security firm to avoid liability for racist remarks that the guard allegedly made while also trying to make a racist drink order in Kansas City. And one particularly cautious firm fired a guard back in 2019 for asking students not to use racial slues in Wisconsin.
It’s important to understand that security guards can create liability issues without touching a person, especially if they use language that’s offensive or could be construed as a racial or sexual assault. We know it’s already a challenge to keep guards aware and trained to avoid liability issues resulting from injuries or other actions. Now security firms have to worry about what their guards say, too? But fortunately, firms can limit this risk with a few basic guidelines for all jobs, especially those where security guards frequently interact with the public.
Stress Being Polite and Listening
In the examples we listed above and many other situations, security guards could have completely avoided liability risk by staying quiet, or only saying what they absolutely have to. On one hand, it’s important that guards understand their words could get them in trouble. On the other hand, in many cases it’s also necessary for guards to show good customer service skills and friendly interactions with the customers they may meet.
Politeness and listening are two skills that go very far here. As long as guards remember to practice being polite and careful listening, they are unlikely to lose their temper or get into trouble because of something they say. These skills get much easier with a little practice, and training is available to enhance them. They’re also a vital part of de-escalation training that guards can apply to all kinds of jobs.
A Little Sensitivity Training Goes a Long Way
Sensitivity training may sound like an HR requirement for office work, but it’s actually a very practical lesson in how to deal with all kinds of people. That can make this kind of training especially valuable for security guards who meet many customers and employees throughout their shift. Sensitivity training gives employees ways to think about people who may differ in race, gender, religion, age, and so on, giving them tools to understand how that may affect attitudes and behavior.
If your guards don’t have a lot of experience in dealing with a high volume of people or you’re worried about incidents for a particular job, arrange for sensitivity training classes. They’re readily available both online and in-person, and they can get guards thinking about the kind of situations they’ll want to avoid. Plus, if a liability issue does arise, the firm can show that it has worked to give guards the tools they need as a way to show it shouldn’t be at fault for what an individual guard does.
Guards Should Focus on Solving Problems
When guards interact with the public at a venue or similar location, it’s helpful to focus on problem-solving. This accomplishes two important things. First, it helps remove a situation before it can lead to anger and outbursts. In the example of the ticket seller above, a focus on problem-solving could be explaining that the claimant could sell tickets, but not at the grounds of the venue — another location across the street could work.
Second, this focus on problem-solving helps keep a guard concentrating on how to resolve a situation, which helps them avoid any inherent biases or internal anger they may be feeling. Essentially, they’re de-escalating themselves by changing where their attention is heading. It’s also a good customer service practice that pairs well with our other training above.
With a little training and the right awareness, firms can decrease the risks of getting into trouble because of something a guard says. Our steps above can help stop a situation before a firm has to take steps like firing a guard.
If your security company is concerned about the possibility of liability issues from something a guard says, especially during times or places where tension already exists, we advise vetting your security guards carefully. Many times, past incidents or behavior can show how guards are likely to respond to future events. The positive version of this is true, too: If you have a guard who’s known for customer interaction or has successfully defused arguments in the past, they may be just the ones to take on jobs if you have concerns!