This article was last updated 24 July 2020
Wearing a face covering is now mandatory in shops and supermarkets in England. It’s hoped it will give consumers more confidence to shop safely, but what does the new rule mean if you’re a shop owner?
We asked our legal experts to explain how this new rule may affect your small business, including who is responsible for enforcing the rules and how to be mindful of exemptions.
Why are face coverings mandatory in shops in England?
Enclosed spaces can make distancing more difficult, and there is a higher risk of close contact with people who aren’t members of your household.
“While some shoppers may still be nervous, small firms will be hoping that these new measures will inject new confidence into customers and get them back into town centres and high streets across the nation," said Mike Cherry, National Chair of the Federation of Small Businesses. Read the full response from FSB.
Will the new rules apply to my business?
Face coverings must be worn by all customers on your retail premises, apart from where they are exempt.
- Shops and supermarkets (places which are open to the public and that wholly or mainly offer goods or services for retail sale or hire)
- Indoor shopping centres
- Banks, building societies and post offices (including credit unions, short-term loan providers, savings clubs and money service businesses)
You are expected to wear a face covering immediately before entering any of these settings and must keep it on until you leave.
The government has published detailed guidance on face coverings , including where face coverings are not required.
The rule doesn’t apply for hospitality businesses, such as cafes, coffee shops, restaurants and pubs, where it wouldn’t be practical to wear a face mask. However, in this case, you should be collecting customer details under NHS Test and Trace.
If your shop is within another premises which does not require a face covering (such as a visitor attraction), they are required in the shop only.
How do the rules differ across the UK?
The new rule applies to customers of retail businesses in England. The use of face coverings is currently mandatory on public transport in England.
In Scotland, wearing a face covering is already compulsory in shops for both customers and staff, unless staff can maintain 2m physical distancing or where Perspex screens are in place, and on public transport, with some limited exemptions.
Northern Ireland made them compulsory on most buses, trains and ferries from 10 July.
Wales is advising people to wear face coverings where social distancing is not possible. Their use will also become mandatory on public transport from 27 July in Wales.
Who is exempt?
Children under 11 and those with certain disabilities will be exempt.
Do my employees need to wear a face covering?
The government sector guidance for shops on working safely during coronavirus, which applies in England, has been updated in respect of face coverings. This includes guidance on how employees can use face coverings safely.
Employers should support their workers in using face coverings safely if they choose to wear one. It’s not mandatory for shop or supermarket, indoor shopping centres, banks, building societies or post office workers to wear face coverings, although the government recommends that businesses consider their use where appropriate and where other mitigations are not in place.
The use of face coverings does not replace other more effective measures to protect workers and customers from the risk of contracting coronavirus on the premises.
Where 2m physical distancing cannot be adhered to, including for shop workers, employers are advised to put in place mitigating actions.
Mitigating actions include:
- further increasing the frequency of hand washing and surface cleaning
- keeping the activity time involved as short as possible
- using screens or barriers to separate people from each other (for example at tills for staff serving customers)
- using back-to-back or side-to-side working (rather than face-to-face) whenever possible
- reducing the number of people each person has contact with by using ‘fixed teams or partnering’ (so each person works with only a few others)
What if someone refuses to wear a face covering?
If a customer refuses to wear a face covering, and they don’t have an exemption, you can decide to refuse them entry. If they fail to comply with this, you can call the police as a last resort.
Retailers will not have legal powers to enforce the wearing of face coverings on their premises, although they may choose to refuse entry to customers who refuse to wear a face covering whilst on the premises. The police have formal enforcement powers and can issue a fine to those refusing to wear a face covering.
Can my business be fined if customers don’t wear a face covering?
No. The liability for wearing a face covering lies with the individual. You can ask someone to leave your premises if they refuse to wear a face mask.
People who fail to follow the new rule may face a fine of up to £100.
Got more questions?
For the latest advice and guidance for small businesses and the self-employed, visit our coronavirus hub.
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