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Mandatory Face Coverings in Shops and Supermarkets in England

Last Updated: 24 July

From 24 July it will be mandatory for customers to wear face coverings in shops and supermarkets in England.

Please note: This advice relates to England in particular. The advice for Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales is specific to each nation; in Scotland it is already mandatory to wear face coverings in shops.

The guidance applies to all shops and supermarkets in England, including indoor retail locations such as shopping centres and take-away food outlets. As well as public transport, where it is already mandatory to wear face coverings.

Usdaw welcomes this announcement as we support any measures that will help to keep our members safe at work.

At the same time, this must not replace existing social distancing and hygiene measures, which are still the most effective ways to stop the spread of the virus.

We are also deeply concerned that enforcing the wearing of face coverings could present a further flashpoint for abuse against our retail members. Usdaw is clear that abuse is not part of the job.

The full Government guidance was only released hours before the changes came into action and there is concern that employers will not have had adequate time to put policy into place to support staff through the changes.

This is a summary of the Government guidance. You can read the full Government document here.

What do we mean by face coverings?

In the context of Coronavirus, a face covering is something which safely covers the nose and mouth. They can be reusable or single-use. You may also use a scarf, bandana, religious garment or hand-made cloth covering but these must securely fit round the side of the face. (Please note: Your employer may have specific guidance on which face coverings are acceptable in your workplace. Please check with your manager for the policy at your workplace).

Face coverings are not classified as PPE (personal protective equipment) which is used in a limited number of settings to protect wearers against hazards and risks, such as surgical masks or respirators used in medical and industrial settings.

Face coverings are instead largely intended to protect others, not the wearer, against the spread of infection because they cover the nose and mouth, which are the main confirmed sources of transmission of virus that causes Coronavirus infection.

A face covering should:  

  • Cover your nose and mouth while allowing you to breathe comfortably
  • Fit comfortably but securely against the side of the face
  • Be secured to the head with ties or ear loops
  • Be made of a material that you find to be comfortable and breathable
  • Ideally include at least two layers of fabric
  • If reusable, should be washed regularly

Why are face coverings being made compulsory?

Coronavirus is spread by tiny droplets from coughs, sneezes and speaking. These droplets can also be picked up from surfaces, if you touch a surface and then your face without washing your hands first.

The best available scientific evidence is that, when used correctly, wearing a face covering may reduce the spread of coronavirus droplets in certain circumstances, helping to protect others.

At the same time, this must not replace existing social distancing and hygiene measures, which are still the most effective ways to stop the spread of the virus.

Will shop workers need to wear face coverings?

In relation to shop workers wearing face coverings, the Government guidance says:

“It is not compulsory for shop or supermarket staff to wear face coverings although we strongly recommend that employers consider their use where appropriate and where other mitigations are not in place. Employees should continue to follow COVID-19 secure guidelines to reduce the proximity and duration of contact between employees. Businesses are already subject to legal obligations to protect their staff under existing employment law. This means taking appropriate steps to provide a safe working environment, which may include face coverings where appropriate, alongside other mitigation such as perspex screens to separate workers from customers.”

Policies on the wearing of face coverings will vary between workplaces, and you should refer to your individual company information to check where and when you may need to wear a face covering.

If you are expected to wear a face covering at work, we would expect your employer to provide you with one. This should either be a reusable one, which can be laundered in the usual way with your work uniform (if this is the case you will need more than one); or a disposable one at the start of each shift. We would also expect the employer to provide you with additional time away from the shop floor, which could include time behind a Perspex screen, where wearing a face covering is not required.

If you need any support or further information about your company’s approach to face coverings, please contact your in-store rep or local Usdaw office.

How will I be able to conduct age-related sales?

The Government guidance has put in a specific measure whereby you can ask someone to briefly remove their mask if they wish to purchase an age-restricted item. The Government guidance says:

“There are also scenarios when you are permitted to remove a face covering when asked:

  • If asked to do so in a bank, building society, or post office for identification.
  • If asked to do so by shop staff for identification, the purpose of assessing health recommendations, such as a pharmacist, or for identification purposes including when buying age-restricted products such as alcohol”.

In such situations, it may be necessary to ask the customer to step back to ensure adequate social distancing.

Who will enforce face coverings in shops and supermarkets?

The guidance says that the public must “play their part and wear face coverings in order to help fight the spread of the virus”.

The responsibility for wearing a face covering sits with individuals. Businesses are “encouraged” to put measures in place to make sure customers to follow the law, such as additional signage and tannoy announcements.

The police are responsible for ensuring the public comply with the new guidance. The police will have the powers to enforce these measures (as they already do on public transport), including through issuing a fine of £100 (halving to £50 if paid within 14 days).

Usdaw has been clear throughout the debate on face coverings that it should never be the responsibility of shopworkers to enforce this.

We are concerned that this will become yet another flashpoint for abuse against retail workers, and we have contacted the Government to raise this as a concern.

Exemptions from face coverings

There are some circumstances, for health, age or equality reasons, where there is a legitimate reason why customers are not expected to wear a face covering. Some examples of this include:

  • Young children under the age of 11
  • Not being able to put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability, such as:
    • Breathing difficulties and other respiratory conditions
    • Conditions affecting their dexterity, meaning they are not able to put on a face covering
    • Mental health conditions such as anxiety or panic disorders
    • Other non-visible disabilities such as autism
    • Cognitive impairments, including dementia, who may not understand or remember the need to wear a face covering
    • Visual impairments, with a restricted field of vision, particularly if any residual vision is at the lower edge of the normal field of view
    • Impairments which would make it difficult to put on or take off a face covering safely, accurately, consistently or without pain
  • If you are travelling with or providing assistance to someone who relies on lip reading to communicate
  • To avoid harm or injury, or the risk of harm or injury, to yourself or others
  • To avoid injury, or to escape a risk of harm, and you do not have a face covering with you
  • To eat or drink, but only if you need to
  • To take medication
  • If a police officer or other official requests you remove your face covering
  • If a shop assistant asks you to remove your mask to make an age related sale (as above)
  • If speaking with people who rely on lip reading, facial expressions and clear sound. Some may ask you, either verbally or in writing, to remove a covering to help with communication
Find out what this means for people who are deaf or have hearing loss.

We will update our advice again once the detailed Government guidance has been published.

If you have any concerns regarding the implementation of mandatory face masks in shops and supermarkets, please contact your in-store Usdaw rep, or your local Usdaw office for further advice and support.

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