Face coverings: What are the rules for businesses?

Blogs 14 Jul 2020

What does the new advice mean for your business? Find out with our guide.

This article was last updated 23 September 2020

On 22 September, the Government announced that the requirement to wear face coverings in England would be extended to:

  • Retail staff
  • Hospitality staff
  • Customers in indoor hospitality, unless seated at a table to eat or drink

Wearing a face covering is already mandatory in many indoor settings in England. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have published their own guidance.

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 in the indoor settings listed, apart from where they are exempt.

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 rules now apply to hospitality businesses, such as cafes, coffee shops, restaurants and pubs, unless a customer is seated at a table to eat or drink. You are also required to collect customer details under NHS Test and Trace.

How do the rules differ across the UK?

Businesses in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should refer to the guidance for their nation.

Who is exempt?

Children under 11 and those with certain disabilities are be exempt.

Do my employees need to wear a face covering?

On 22 September, the Government announced that retail and hospitality staff in England will now be required to wear a face mask.

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.

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, 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.

On 22 September, the fine for those who fail to follow the rules on face coverings increased to £200.

Got more questions?

For the latest advice and guidance for small businesses and the self-employed, visit our coronavirus hub

As an FSB member, you can call our legal advice line 24/7 and get answers when you need them. Or, visit our dedicated online Legal Hub to access over 1,100+ legally compliant documents, templates and fact sheets.


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