Is it safe for retailers to say goodbye to masks?

Together we are Forbes


05 August, 2021

Andrew Halpin

Following "Freedom Day" customers and employees are no longer legally required to wear face coverings from Monday 19 July 2021. Masks have been a contentious issue throughout the pandemic.

There is an identifiable conflict between the government advice and requirements for each retailer. The government have failed to provide clear guidance for retailers, as although the legal requirement to wear masks indoors has been eradicated, there is still an expectation and obligation to wear masks indoors and in large-crowded spaces. Many retailers have ensured hand sanitiser is available to both customers and employees, and screens remain in stores to help reduce the risk of transmission. When retailers are deciding whether to request that customers and employees wear a face covering, they may need to consider reasonable adjustments for employees and customers with exemptions. The difference between what is regulatory and advisory must be further clarified so that customers and employees know and understand what is expected of them. It is vital that individuals are considerate towards others and respect personal choices.

It is important that retailers strike a balance between ensuring the safety of staff and customers, whilst acknowledging the abolishment of the requirement to wear a face covering. Employers must consider the potential consequences of enforcing individual requirements, upon the members of staff. Giving employees the responsibility to ensure face coverings are worn when possible, presents huge problems. It is undoubtedly difficult for staff to enforce rules that are not legal requirements.

The lifting of lockdown restrictions has incited a pressing impact upon retail operations. Due to the rise in infections, many employees have had to self-isolate. Present government guidelines state that businesses 'should consider encouraging and recommending the use of face coverings by workers and customers as a safety measure, in enclosed and crowded spaces where they may come into contact with people that they do not normally meet.' Although this advice is expected to change in the future, when the risk posed by Covid-19 is minimal, it is important that employers consider extra precautions whilst infection rates remain high.

Usdaw (shop-workers union) have cajoled the government to not lift the Covid-19 restrictions in retail stores. Due to the amount of social interaction for retail staff, it is important that retailers consider the implications of the removal of restrictions for employees, and aim to provide support for their concerns. Many supermarket retailers have stated that mask-wearing will be a matter of personal choice. Nonetheless, it will be encouraged for people to wear face coverings where possible. Masks bear a significant impact, yet do not control the rate of infection. It is important that customers and employers are encouraged to isolate when they have symptoms and respect safe social distancing where possible. The absence of a requirement for face coverings and social distancing does not mean individuals should not proceed with caution. It is vital that people continue to take their own precautions where possible, to help reduce the risk of transmission. Retailers should ensure that individual regulations regarding masks are communicated clearly and effectively.

Key advice for retailers:

  • Ensure sufficient ventilation is provided;
  • Ensure cleaning standards are maintained;
  • Review Covid-19 risk assessments;
  • Provide an opportunity for customers to check-in via Track and Trace;
  • Provide extra training for staff;
  • Ensure store requirements are listed for customers;
  • Check that customers and employees do not have symptoms of Covid-19 before entering the premises;
  • Encourage the use of contactless payment;
  • Communicate with staff regarding proposed requirements.

For more information contact Andrew Halpin in our Retail department via email or phone on 01772 220239. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.

Learn more about our Retail department here

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