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.

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

On 22 September 2020, 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

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. Please note this is not a substitute for legal advice. FSB members should contact our 24/7 legal helpline for advice.

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 exemptions and where face coverings are not required.

The rules also 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.

What if someone refuses to wear a face covering?

The law across the UK currently makes it is an offence to fail to wear a face covering in places where they are mandatory, such as in shops and on public transport, unless the individual has ‘a reasonable excuse’.

In England, ‘a reasonable excuse’ includes where the individual has a disability.  Government guidance states that individuals that have an age, health or disability reason for not wearing a face covering do not routinely need to show any written evidence of this.

The Equality Act 2010 makes service-providers (such as shops and restaurants) liable in civil claims for acts of disability discrimination against members of the public.

If a customer is not wearing a face covering due to a disability, it may be a breach of the Equality Act if the business refuses the customer entry unless they wear a face covering, or treats them unfavourably in some other way. This may put the business at risk of a civil claim for injury to feelings under the Equality Act by a disabled customer, unless the business shows its action was proportionate based on all the circumstances. If it is a policy or practice of the business to refuse entry to all customers (regardless of any ‘reasonable excuse’), there might also be a claim by the customer for breach of the service provider’s duty to make reasonable adjustments or of indirect discrimination (again, unless the business can show that its policy is proportionate). 

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)
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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