Last week marked the beginning of further measures to protect us against the COVID-19 pandemic, including face coverings at work

From the 24th of September all pubs, restaurants & bars will be forced to shut their doors at 10pm. The use of face coverings will be made mandatory in more locations, including in the workplace.

When members of the public must wear face coverings

These are some places where members of the public must wear a face covering by law. Different rules exist in different parts of the UK, which you can find out about on the relevant regional websites.

In England, you must wear a face covering in the following indoor settings:

  • Public transport (aeroplanes, trains, trams and buses)
  • Taxis and private hire vehicles (PHVs)
  • Transport hubs (airports, rail and tram stations and terminals, maritime ports and terminals, bus and coach stations and terminals)
  • Shops and supermarkets (places which offer goods or services for retail sale or hire)
  • Shopping centres (malls and indoor markets)
  • Auction houses
  • Premises providing hospitality (bars, pubs, restaurants, cafes), except when seated at table to eat or drink
  • Post offices, banks, building societies, high-street solicitors and accountants, credit unions, short-term loan providers, savings clubs and money service businesses
  • Premises providing personal care and beauty treatments (hair salons, barbers, nail salons, massage centres, tattoo and piercing parlours)
  • Premises providing veterinary services
  • Visitor attractions and entertainment venues (museums, galleries, cinemas, theatres, concert halls, cultural and heritage sites, aquariums, indoor zoos and visitor farms, bingo halls, amusement arcades, adventure activity centres, indoor sport stadiums, funfairs, theme parks, casinos, skating rinks, bowling alleys, indoor play areas including soft play areas.
  • Libraries and public reading rooms
  • Places of worship
  • Funeral service providers ( funeral homes, crematoria and burial ground chapels).
  • Community centres , youth centres and social clubs
  • Exhibition halls and conference centres
  • Public areas in hotels and hostels
  • Storage and distribution facilities

You are expected to wear a face covering before entering any of these settings and must keep it on until you leave unless there is a reasonable excuse for removing it.

You should also wear a face covering in indoor places not listed here where social distancing may be difficulty and where you will come into contact with people you do not normally meet.

Face coverings are needed in NHS settings, including hospitals and primary or community care settings, such as GP surgeries. They are also advised to be worn in care homes.

face coverings at work

Face coverings at work

Employers must make sure that the risk assessment for their business addresses the risks of COVID-19 using the detailed guidance for specific workplace settings to inform decisions and control measures including close proximity working.

It is important to note that coronavirus needs to be managed through control measures including:

  • Social distancing
  • High standards of hand hygiene Increased surface cleaning
  • Fixed teams or partnering
  • Other measures such as using screens or barriers to separate people from each other

These measures remain the best ways of managing risk, but there are some circumstances when wearing face coverings at work may be marginally beneficial and a precautionary measure; this will largely be to protect others and not the wearer.

Normal policies relating to occupational workwear and PPE will continue to apply.

Face coverings must be worn by retail, leisure and hospitality staff working in areas that are open to the public and where they’re likely to come into contact with a member of the public.

This includes:

  • Shops
  • Supermarkets
  • Bars
  • Pubs
  • Restaurants
  • Cafes
  • Banks
  • Estate agents
  • Post offices
  • Public areas of hotels and hostels

If these businesses have taken steps in line with Health and Safety Executive guidance for COVID-19 secure workplaces to create a physical barrier between workers and members of the public then staff behind the barrier will not be required to wear a face covering.

For other indoor settings, employers should assess the use of face coverings on a case by case basis depending on the workplace environment, other appropriate mitigations they have put in place, and whether reasonable exemptions apply.

Employees should continue to follow guidance from their employer based on a workplace health and safety assessment.

For recommendations and requirements in specific settings please check the government’s workplace settings guidance.

What is a face covering?

In the context of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, a face covering is something which safely covers the nose and mouth. You can buy reusable or single-use face coverings. You may also use a scarf, bandana, religious garment or hand-made cloth covering but these must securely fit round the side of the face.

Face coverings are not classified as PPE (personal protective equipment) which is used in a limited number of settings to protect wearers against hazards and risks, such as surgical masks or respirators used in medical and industrial settings.

Face coverings are instead largely intended to protect others, not the wearer, against the spread of infection because they cover the nose and mouth, which are the main confirmed sources of transmission of virus that causes coronavirus infection (COVID-19).

face coverings in the workplace

How to wear a face covering

A face covering should:

  • Cover your nose and mouth while allowing you to breathe comfortably
  • Fit comfortably but securely against the side of the face
  • Secured to the head with ties or ear loops
  • Made of a material that you find to be comfortable and breathable, such as cotton
  • ideally include at least two layers of fabric (the World Health Organization recommends three depending on the fabric used)
  • Unless disposable, it should be able to be washed and dried

When wearing a face covering you should:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser before putting a face covering on
  • Avoid wearing on your neck or forehead
  • Avoid touching the part of the face covering in contact with your mouth and nose, as it could be contaminated with the virus
  • Change the face covering if it becomes damp or if you’ve touched it
  • Avoid taking it off and putting it back on a lot in quick succession (for example, when leaving and entering shops on a high street)

When removing a face covering:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser before removing
  • Only handle the straps, ties or clips
  • Do not give it to someone else to use
  • If single use, dispose of it carefully in a residual waste bin and do not recycle
  • If reusable, wash it in line with manufacturer’s instructions at the highest temperature appropriate for the fabric
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser once removed

If employees are working behind a protective barrier, they are able to remove their face covering. It is not mandatory for employees to wearing face coverings in the premises whilst it is closed to the general public.

Is a face covering and a face mask the same thing?

No, it is important to distinguish between face coverings, face masks and PPE such as respirators.

A face covering can be any covering of the mouth and nose, made of cloth or other textiles and through which an individual can breathe. Religious face coverings, a scarf, a snood or a bandana can count as face coverings.

Face coverings are not manufactured to a recognised standard and do not require CE marking. They are not the same as face masks which are manufactured to specifications for medical/surgical masks (which are deemed as medical devices in accordance with the EU Medical Device Regulations) and classified as Type I, Type II or Type IIR.

Importantly, face coverings should not be used as an alternative to PPE which is used to manage risks in the workplace. Respirators or filter masks FFP2, FFP3 are manufactured to recognised standards for PPE and classified as category III personal protective equipment under the PPE Regulations.”

Due to the complexity of the different contexts in which COVID-19 can spread and the rapidly changing and growing evidence base on the effectiveness of face coverings, there are currently no UK product standards for face coverings.

face covering at work

The reason for using face coverings

COVID-19 usually spreads by droplets from coughs, sneezes and speaking. These droplets can also be picked up from surfaces, if you touch a surface and then your face without washing your hands first. This is why social distancing, regular hand hygiene, covering coughs and sneezes is so important in controlling the spread of the virus.

The best available scientific evidence is that, when used correctly, wearing a face covering may reduce the spread of coronavirus droplets in certain circumstances, helping to protect others.

Because face coverings are mainly intended to protect others, not the wearer, from COVID-19 they are not a replacement for social distancing and regular hand washing. It is important to follow all the other government advice on Coronavirus including staying safe outside your home. If you have recent onset of any of the most important symptoms of COVID-19:

  • A new continuous cough
  • A high temperature
  • A loss of, or change in, your normal sense of small or taste
  • You and your household must isolate at home; wearing a face covering does not change this. 

Do employers cover the costs of face coverings at work?

If government guidance and your risk assessment has specified that your employees should wear a face covering when they’re likely to come into contact with a member of the public then an employer should provide these free of charge to workers who need them.

Face coverings and exemption cards

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 and this includes exemption cards.

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. Get exemption card templates here.

For more COVID-19 and workplace advice…

Call us on 0203 667 7270 or email us at Please remember that we are still here to help and support you with any issues during this worrying time.

Alternatively, have a read of our ‘Update: COVID Business Support Measures September 2020‘ for our advice on understanding & implementing these COVID business support measures from a HR point of view, for employees and employers!

We hope you all take care and stay safe.