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Can an employee in a public facing role refuse to interact with a customer who is not wearing a face mask?

In some circumstances, visitors and customers are required to wear face coverings, such as those travelling on public transport, shoppers and museum visitors. The government guidance states that:

  • businesses must remind people to wear face coverings where mandated; and
  • premises where face coverings are required should take reasonable steps to promote compliance with the law.

As part of their duty of care to employees and to uphold a relationship of mutual trust and confidence, employers should consider how employees can ensure that visitors and customers comply with the rules and provide their staff with guidance. They must also seek ways to protect their employees both from the risks of those customers not wearing face masks and potential abuse from customers or visitors who decline to wear a face covering. This may include having signs in place requiring customers and visitors to wear a mask and allowing staff to refuse to serve customers if they do not follow the rules.

However, it is ultimately the responsibility of the police, security and public transport officials to remove customers from premises where they are not complying with the rules on face coverings.

The police and Transport for London have been given greater powers by the government to take measures if the public do not comply with the law relating to face coverings without a valid exemption, such as refusing to wear a face covering. This includes issuing fines which have now been increased to £200 for the first offence (and £100 if paid within 14 days). Transport operators can also deny access to their public transport services if a passenger is not wearing a face covering, or direct them to wear one or leave a service.