The Government has reintroduced compulsory face coverings in shops in England, as part of its precautionary measures to slow down the spread of the Omicron variant of Coronavirus. The new rules come into force tomorrow, Tuesday 30 November.
Official government guidance appears not to exist, so we are working on the assumption that the situation will be the same as in autumn of last year. We will inform you if anything changes when any guidance is issued.
We do not have clear visibility on whether face coverings will be compulsory for staff and volunteers – but the assumption currently is that the situation is unchanged from last autumn (see below).
CRA guidance from March 2021 as it applies to England
Customers, staff and volunteers are required to wear face coverings in shops, unless they have an exemption. Staff and volunteers are not required to wear face coverings when behind a partition screen if this gives adequate protection. Face coverings are not required in non-customer areas of the store or when the store is closed to the public and social distancing can be maintained. Face visors are not considered an adequate form of face covering.
There is no legal requirement for staff or volunteers to refuse entry or service to a customer not wearing a face covering, nor are they required to enforce the regulation. The responsibility for wearing a face covering sits with the individual customer not the retailer, staff member or volunteer. Retailers should seek to encourage customers to wear face coverings (for example with the use of posters) whilst being mindful that some people will be exempt due to a disability or health condition and of the potential for conflict if a customer refuses to follow the rules. If required, the police can be called on to enforce the wearing of face coverings but their availability to do so is likely to be limited. The police are responsible for enforcement.
Face coverings are not a replacement for existing risk mitigations, including the need for social distancing, frequent cleaning and handwashing, which should all remain in place. Government guidance states that “Businesses will be expected to provide face coverings as a working requirement but staff will be welcome to use their own.” Staff and volunteers should also be supported to use face coverings safely – staff and volunteers MUST wear face coverings (not visors) when in areas that are open to the public unless they are (and remain) behind an adequate till screen.
If a polite reminder to a customer to wear a face covering is ignored or met with hostility, then no further action should be taken. This is due to the risk of escalating the situation if further challenges are made and also the fact that some customers will be exempt from wearing a face covering due to a disability or health condition.
It is not impossible that the kind of abuse experienced last autumn may rear its head again. CRA advice on defusing such situations is available here.