It has recently been reported that four major supermarket chains in England now intend to strictly enforce the wearing of face masks by customers when entering their stores. It is understood that the companies have said that entry will likely be denied to those who do not wear face masks unless they have a valid medical exemption, due to the ongoing covid pandemic.
Under The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings in a Relevant Place) (England) Regulations 2020 the public are required to wear a face covering in shops and supermarkets unless they are exempt. The public are expected to wear a face covering when entering such premises and are required to keep it on for the duration of their visit unless there is a reasonable excuse for removing it. Premises where face coverings are required to be worn are required to take reasonable steps to promote compliance with these requirement and the police can take measures if members of the public do not comply, without a valid exemption.
There are a number of exemptions provided for within the regulations, which includes such for people who cannot put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability.
Guidance provided suggests that, if you have health or disability reasons for not wearing a face covering in public, you should not routinely need to show written evidence of this and you do not need to show an exemption card by law. However, you can be asked for reasons why you are exempt from wearing a face covering by service providers on their premises. To avoid the need for you having to verbally advise of a disability or health condition in a public place when asked, exemption cards which can be downloaded, completed and printed or even saved to a mobile device can be accessed on the government’s .gov website.
If you are exempt from wearing a face covering due to a health condition or disability, you duly inform a service provider when asked and you are subsequently denied a service, you may be able to make a claim of discrimination under the terms of the Equality Act 2010.
If you feel that you may have been subjected to discrimination it is important to remember that there are strict time limits to bring such a claim in the County Court, namely within 6 months less one day of the incident of alleged discrimination having occurred.
It is therefore imperative that should you find yourself in such circumstances, you seek specialist legal advice immediately. If you feel that you may have suffered from disability discrimination and need further advice regarding this matter, please contact our specialist solicitors in the discrimination law department on 0161 696 6170.
By Carrie Higgins, employment law and discrimination team