Legal update: Wearing a face covering in your workplace

Please Note: All information correct at time of writing on 1 October 2020. We do our very best to make sure our information is as up to date as possible, but we’d encourage you to check out our latest articles and to check the government website for updates as they happen.

30 September 2020

Face coverings are now mandatory for the public in most indoor settings in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and for employees working in most areas that are open to the public in England, Scotland and Wales. Due to the rise in cases across the UK, amendments have been made to the principal Coronavirus Regulations, placing legal requirements on the public and businesses on the wearing and enforcement of the use of face coverings.


The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Self-Isolation) (England) Regulations 2020

From 24 September 2020

  • Employees in hospitality and retail venues in areas open to the public must wear face coverings
  • Customers in hospitality must wear face coverings except when seated to eat and drink
  • Legal requirement for face coverings and visors to be worn in close contact services.
  • Face coverings must be worn by leisure employees working in areas that are open to the public and where they’re likely to come into contact with a member of the public. However, if steps are taken in line with the HSE guidance for COVID-secure workplaces to create a physical barrier between workers and members of the public, then the staff behind the barrier will not be required to wear a face covering.

From 23 September 2020

  • customers in private hire vehicles and taxis must wear face coverings.

There are no changes to the requirements for face coverings to be worn by visitors and outpatients at all times in NHS settings in England – including hospitals and primary or community care settings, such as GP surgeries and care homes.


There have been no changes to the requirement for the public and employees to wear face coverings in certain indoor public places.


From 14 September – face coverings will be required for both customers and employees working in indoor public areas. Public areas include areas within buildings that are otherwise closed to the public e.g. a reception area of an office building

Face coverings are also mandatory in all indoor public places such as shops and shopping centres, places of worship, hairdressers and salons, cinemas and museums, gyms, and leisure centres, and anywhere that is open to members of the public.

The only indoor public areas where face coverings will not be required are where you are inside a place to eat or drink, for example, cafés, restaurants, and pubs. However, a café which also offers take away services, individuals will need to wear a face covering in the parts of the premises where people are not eating or drinking.

Employers are required to review and enforce the use of face coverings in other indoor workplaces where social distancing cannot be maintained unless there are strong reasons not to.

Schools and childcare settings are not public places. The decision about whether to introduce face coverings in secondary schools and in what areas they are worn will be a local decision for the school or setting depending on their COVID-19 risk assessment and local circumstances.

Northern Ireland

There are no amendments to the regulations since 10 August 2020 when the use of face coverings in certain indoor settings by the public became mandatory. A month prior, the wearing of face coverings by all passengers and staff on public transport became compulsory. You can read more on the NI government website, here.



There are circumstances where people may not be able to wear a face covering. These are listed in the Schedules to The Health Protection Regulations.

Exemptions and compliance for the public

Those who have an age, health or disability reason for not wearing a face covering should not be routinely asked to give any written evidence of this, this includes exemption cards. Anyone who is exempt from wearing a face covering should not be denied entry if they are not wearing one. Instead, businesses should take reasonable steps to promote compliance with the law and encourage customer compliance for example through verbal reminders, in store communications or notices at the entrance. The police, environmental health or transport officers have enforcement powers under the Coronavirus Regulations in the instance that an individual is refusing to wear a face covering and they are not exempt.

What about exemption for employees?

In retail and hospitality settings in England, employees who are exempt from wearing a mask can continue to work in public-facing roles. The reason for not wearing a mask can be complex and personal, therefore, a discussion with the employee can help to form the COVID risk assessment and the consideration of suitable alternatives to ensure safety of the employee and others. There is no obligation for employees to wear an ‘exemption’ badge, and employers should not ask them to. However, if an employee is worried about customers complaining or questioning them about why they are not wearing a mask, it may help to wear one. In England, indoor settings must follow Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidance to reduce COVID risks and assess the use of face coverings on a case-by-case basis ensuring that mitigating measures are implemented and you’re applying exemptions where applicable. Within retail indoor settings in England and Scotland, government guidance states that employees working behind a physical barrier between themselves and the public will not be required to wear a face mask.

Do businesses need to provide the face coverings?

There is no obligation for workplaces to provide face coverings to members of the public. Where face coverings are required for employees, in England, the Government’s Working Safely during Coronavirus guidance states that businesses are expected to provide these. However, staff can use their own face coverings if they choose.

What’s the difference between a face mask and face covering?

Face coverings are not the same as face masks. A face covering is defined in The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings in a Relevant Place) (England) Regulations 2020 as a ‘covering of any type which covers a person’s nose and mouth.’ Face masks are classed as personal protective equipment (PPE) and protect the user against health or safety risks at work. Face masks include respiratory protective equipment (RPE) such as surgical face masks or FPP2/3 respirators.

Can visors be used instead?

A face covering is something which safely covers the nose and mouth, it can be a bandana, religious garment or hand-made cloth covering but these must securely fit round the side of the face which visors do not. Therefore, where face coverings are mandatory, they must be worn instead of visors. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, the guidance specifically states that visors are not a suitable alternative to face coverings. For those who are exempt from wearing a face covering, visors can be considered as a possible alternative.

Do we need to use face coverings in non-public facing settings such as offices?

Employees who do not work in hospitality, retail, and other non-public facing settings are not required by law to wear a face covering. Employees only need to wear one if a risk assessment determines it necessary e.g. the use of face coverings would be particularly relevant if social distancing is not possible.

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