Face Coverings to be Mandatory in Shops: Key Questions

Wearing a face covering will be mandatory in shops and supermarkets in England from 24 July 2020.

Small firms may well be hoping face coverings (not specifically masks) will bring confidence back to consumers. There have been calls for councils and government to help small firms either by delivering masks or by offering funding for their purchase so that customers aren’t turned away, but currently there is no such commitment.

A few questions local shop owners may well be asking include:

Why are face coverings being made mandatory in shops?

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.

Will the new rules apply to my business?

Face coverings must be worn by all customers on retail premises, apart from where they are exempt. 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 covering. However, in these cases businesses should be collecting customer details under NHS Test and Trace.

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 not yet been updated in respect of face coverings. However, 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.

Individual retailers may encourage the use of face coverings for staff unless certain exemptions apply, although there will be no legal requirement for shop or retail workers to wear face coverings once these become mandatory for customers.  Where 2-metre physical distancing cannot be adhered to, including for shop workers, employers are advised to put in place mitigating actions, which 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.