Face Coverings in the Workplace: What are the Rules?


As you may have seen in the news, over the weekend, the rules about where people are obliged to wear face coverings have been expanded to include premises providing professional, legal or financial services; concert halls, places of worship, social clubs, indoor entertainment venues, storage and distribution facilities etc., as well as any indoor place where social distancing may be difficult and persons, may come into contact with people they do not normally meet.

Effectively, this seems to encompass most workplaces and means that in most setting employees must wear face coverings immediately before entering any of these settings and keep it on until you leave. However, there is a clear exception that “employees indoors are not required to wear a mask”; as employers already have an obligation to provide a safe working environment. However, there appears to be a lack of clarity, and employees may be required to wear a mask when moving around the workplace or meeting with others.

This is the case from 8 August 2020.

There is no universal face coverings guidance for workplaces because of the variety of work environments in different industries. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has provided detailed guidance for specific workplace settings.


People who cannot put on, wear, or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment or disability, are exempt from wearing a facemask, or where a person relies on lip-reading to communicate.

Some people may feel more comfortable showing something that says they do not have to wear a face covering. This could be in the form of an exemption card, badge or even a home-made sign. This is a personal choice and is not necessary in law.

The guidance is clear that those who have a reason due to age, health or disability to not wear a face-covering should not be routinely asked to provide any written evidence of this, however, we cannot see why employers would not be initially entitled to ask for an explanation from those members of staff, for health and safety reasons. 

How can this be enforced?

Premises, where face coverings are required, should take reasonable steps to promote compliance with the law. The police can take measures where people do not follow the rules. Should a person not comply with the regulations, they will be subject to a fine of £100 or £50 if paid within the first 14 days.

Employers should ensure their employees are complying, mainly for health and safety reasons, with whatever measures they have put in place to make their workplace Covid Secure. This may include making employees wear a mask where it is not possible to otherwise socially distance.

A refusal by an employee to wear a mask (unless they are exempt) may be a failure to follow reasonable management instructions and give rise to disciplinary consequences. In extreme circumstances, a blatant disregard for social distancing rules and Covid-secure requirements may be gross misconduct and warrant summary dismissal.

For other information about returning to work as lockdown ends, please read our blog here. Our helpline at coronavirus@thrive.co.uk remains open, and we are happy to answer any questions employers and employees may have about coronavirus.

By Alicia Collinson

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