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Answered: How to deal with a threatening customer

Test your HR knowledge with this quiz, part of a series for contractors from the Actavis Academy

The dilemma

One of your pharmacists has been the target of abuse by a member of the public for some time now. It stems from a minor disagreement in the pharmacy months ago over what quantity of an over-the-counter drug the man could buy, but it has escalated since then. The man regularly comes into the pharmacy shouting and making threats.

Your colleague is a quiet woman and says she doesn't want to cause a fuss over the matter. But you’re worried it's starting to affect her health, because she's become even more withdrawn than usual.

The harassment is certainly starting to have an impact on the rest of the team, who are scared of the man. You want to get an injunction to stop him coming near the pharmacy, but your colleague doesn't want you to. Should you go against her wishes?


Should you take out an injunction against a threatening customer?
Total votes: 134

The answer

Eighty-five per cent of 134 C+D readers who answered this month's HR dilemma said they thought a pharmacist should take out an injunction against this threatening customer.

You have a duty under health and safety legislation to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of your employees, and you should do whatever is “reasonably practicable” to ensure this.

Actavis Academy’s explanation

There are some professions — frontline healthcare being one of them — where a degree of unpleasantness from the public is, unfortunately, part of the job. However, there’s a line between unpleasantness and outright abuse, and it sounds like this (former) customer has crossed well beyond it.

Let’s assume that you’ve exhausted all other avenues to resolve the situation, and you’ve taken legal advice to establish that an injunction is possible in this case. If you’ve decided to go ahead and pursue this, you should stop asking whether you should seek an injunction against this man, and focus your energies on how you are going to handle it with your team.

Your first step might be to tell them, as a team, that you’re planning to stop the harassment and how you plan to do it. You may want to inform your pharmacist first that this what you’re planning, but try to deal with this as a team safeguarding issue. If your pharmacist sees that all her colleagues are as relieved as she is that you’re taking action, it may assuage any doubts she has.

Next, gather evidence of the abuse. Get the team involved: keep logs of when this man enters the pharmacy, CCTV footage of him if you have it, and get your staff to record any incidents on their mobile phones if they can.

Under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 you should be able to apply for an interim injunction that orders the man to stop his campaign of harassment immediately. If he breaks the injunction, he could go to prison.

If you’re still having doubts that this is an appropriate course of action, or isn’t “reasonably practicable”, consider what could happen if you do nothing. While you may be respecting your pharmacist’s wishes, even though she’s the main target of abuse, you’ve said the rest of the team is now affected. So this situation could have a detrimental effect on their wellbeing, morale and their ability to do their jobs effectively.

Also, if any of your team is injured or becomes ill as a result of the harassment, and blames your inaction for it, you could be faced with a personal injury negligence claim and, possibly, a claim to an Employment Tribunal for breach of contract. Settlement amounts differ wildly from case to case, but it would be damaging to you both financially and in terms of reputation if you were deemed to be at blame.

As much as your pharmacist doesn’t want to cause trouble, now that the rest of the team is being affected by this campaign of abuse, inaction is the riskier strategy for you.


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*This HR dilemma is funded by Actavis. The views and opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of Actavis. 

What would you do in this situation?

Shaun Steren, Pharmaceutical Adviser

Shout and make threats - out the door you go

JOHN OSUKU OPIO, Community pharmacist

As a GPhC tutor I am always in the serach to identify professional materials to support pre-reg pharmacist. I have mapped with my pre-reg student the evidences he has collected to meet the GPhC standards so as to sign him off for the first  13 weeks period. In our professional discussion, One day,being under the supervision of a co-tutor, a conflict situation cropped up in the pharmacy and his eveidence to validate the achievement of the standard was insufficient to meet the standard. I then decided to explore this situation for hin to have a personal plan for these standards to be achieved. My devised personal training plan for him is conflict management and problem resolution. So as a tutor I am preparing him for the next conflict in the pharmacy environment. My colleague"the victim lady pharmacist" abided by the GPhC standard A1.5: Remain composed and personally effective in all situations"but so far has not fullfiled GPhC standard A3.2: Identify workable options to resolve the problem: This has got to be done. Each situation is different in different location. To every conflict, there is a solution. There is no need for this situation to escalate. There must be a stop so that no futher impact is witnessed on her and the staff. This is a very good case study for us pharmacists in practice and live example of pragmatic material for training. So I have tasked my trainee to explore conflict management and problem resolution in practice for our further discussion so that he could achieve the competency as stipulated by the GPhC standards

Shaun Steren, Pharmaceutical Adviser

Was this generated by a computer in another language, then google translated into English, then copied and pasted between two incompatible file types and then edited so as to introduce sarcasm and satire?

Valentine Trodd, Community pharmacist

Very interesting.

Valentine Trodd, Community pharmacist

Pharmacists are great for having a 'quiet word'...

Valentine Trodd, Community pharmacist

Apologize to the customer, give them a £50 gift voucher and fire the pharmacist - what usually happens.

Jupo Patel, Production & Technical

All very scary sounding I'm sure. haha.

David Lewis, Community pharmacist

Must make a stand this un-acceptable behaviour. Although we have an obligation to look after the patient/customer we are under no obligation to be on the receiving end of such abuse. Word will quickly go round that such behaviour will not be tolerated and both staff & customers will benefit from the more pleasant atmosphere. 

Olukunmi Popoola, Community pharmacist

I agree with you Stephen. Have a quiet word with the patient about the situation. Many issues can be easily sorted out by having one to one chats. However if it doesnt work...

Stephen Eggleston, Community pharmacist

Have word with the customer, explaining why the purchase wasn't allowed and also that their behaviour is unacceptable and that if it continues they will not be tolerated

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