Published: 09 Apr 2021
As lockdown eases and businesses look forward to re-opening, we are reminding organisations against blanket policies barring people from accessing services without a facemask.
We fully support businesses putting policies in place to keep the public and their staff safe. However, exemptions from the legal requirement to wear masks in enclosed public areas exist for people with legitimate reasons. These include people who cannot wear a mask due to physical or mental health conditions or people assisting someone who needs to lip read. Not applying these exemptions could place some people at a disadvantage and be considered a failure to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010.
We have been made aware of a number of companies with policies making it mandatory for customers and staff to wear face-coverings, even when some people were unable to. These included a popular technology store, a luxury department store and a bus company.
Baroness Kishwer Falkner, Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission said:
“Businesses have been looking forward to opening their doors for the last few months. They rightly want to protect their staff and customers’ health. The vast majority of us are able to wear face coverings when required and must do so, but there are people with conditions that prevent them from wearing masks. Acknowledgment of this is precisely why exemptions are written into the law.
“As lockdown eases and businesses reopen, proper policies must be in place. The balance must be struck between protecting staff and customers and supporting those with genuine exemptions. While some selfish people may attempt to abuse the system, the fact is that there are people who cannot wear masks and must still be allowed to access essential services.”
We have written to the organisations we received complaints about to advise them of their legal obligations and warn them about the risk of discriminating against disabled people. The technology company has since agreed to investigate complaints, undertake staff training and update their website to include a reference to exemptions.
We wrote to supermarket CEOs last year, reminding them of their duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people, and how to comply with equality law. We also published guidance in September last year, reminding retailers of their legal responsibilities to make sure they are not discriminating against customers, and their obligations to provide reasonable adjustments for disabled customers.
The guidance includes four steps:
- Provide a service that meets the needs of all customers – anticipate, prepare and make reasonable adjustments for disabled customers.
- Plan ahead to think about the needs of your disabled customers – consider and make changes to policies and procedures, as well as provide extra support and equipment, where necessary.
- Communicate with your customers – inform customers about how they will be supported through a variety of ways such as easy to read signs and spoken announcements.
- Train your staff – ensure that staff are supported with the right tools to help disabled customers, in line with the latest government guidelines on coronavirus (COVID-19).