Wearing a face covering indoors: what are the legal requirements?

The wearing of face masks in indoor public spaces became a legal requirement in Wales on Monday 14th September 2020. However, there is still some confusion amongst the wider public as to the locations the face coverings need to be worn, who is exempt, what constitutes an appropriate covering and how it should be worn. In this article, we answer these questions.

It is widely agreed within the scientific and medical communities that wearing face coverings can reduce the spread of the coronavirus. However, the Welsh Government did not impose a legal requirement to do so, prior to the 14th September, due to the relatively low numbers of cases in Wales. Unfortunately, cases are now on the rise again, and that is why the government had decided to make it a legal requirement.

Where are face coverings required to be worn?

Face coverings are now required in all indoor public places, for both customers and staff working in those indoor public areas.

These locations include shops and shopping centres, churches and other places of worship, hairdressers and salons, cinemas and museums, gyms and leisure centres, and anywhere that is open to members of the public.

It also includes any public areas within buildings that are otherwise closed to the public – for example a reception area of an office building.

The only indoor public areas exempt from face coverings are where you are inside a premise expressly to eat or drink. These include cafés, restaurants and pubs. However, where food and drink is only being served for consumption in part of the premises – for example, a food outlet with take away services – you will still need to wear a face covering in the parts of the premises where people are not eating or drinking.

Employers are also required to mandate the use of face coverings in other indoor workplaces where social distancing cannot be maintained, unless there are strong reasons not to.

If you have a child at school or in childcare, or you work in one of these settings, it’s important to note that these are not deemed public places. Therefore, the decision about mandating a face covering within these premises will be a decision left to the school or setting themselves, depending on their assessment of the risk.

Who does the requirement apply to?

The requirement applies to everyone aged 11 and over – both customers and staff. However, there are certain circumstances which would excuse you, these include:

  • if you are not able to wear a face covering because of a physical or mental illness, or because of a disability or impairment;
  • if you are accompanying somebody who relies on lip reading to communicate effectively; or
  • if you are escaping from a threat or danger and don’t have a face covering on you at this time.

Broadly speaking, if you do not have a reasonable excuse (like those listed above) you should wear your face covering at all times within the applicable public spaces.

The only extenuating circumstances the government states for temporary removal of the face coverings within these spaces are:

  • if you need to take medicines;
  • if you need to eat or drink; or
  • if you need to remove a face covering to avoid harm or injury, either to yourself or others – for example to get somebody’s attention about a danger.

The important thing to remember about these extenuating circumstances for temporary removal is the urgency of the person’s ‘need’. It is very unlikely that most people would need to eat or drink urgently within a shop or other indoor public space. However, this might be different for a diabetic. Likewise, with the urgent taking of medicines.

What constitutes a “face covering” and how should it be worn?

Importantly, face coverings must cover both the nose and the mouth. It is advised that when putting the coverings on, and while wearing them, you should only handle the straps, ties or clips. You should also wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser before and after removing. Reusable masks should be washed regularly with detergent and warm water.

How do you show you are not required to wear a face covering?

The government advises people to carry information which explains why they have a reasonable excuse.  This could be a doctor’s prescription or other evidence such as a hospital appointment letter relating to valid medical condition. Some organisations such as transport operators have created cards that can be downloaded from their websites and printed.

How will the legal requirement be enforced?

There is a requirement for all managers of applicable premises to provide information about the legal requirement to those intending to enter. This information can (and should) be provided in a variety of ways. Business websites should carry specific information on wearing face coverings as part of the conditions of entry and may provide links to other useful websites. Notices advising customers of their legal obligation to wear face coverings should be displayed in a prominent place, in both English and Welsh.

Customers not complying with the requirements will be given an opportunity to put on a face covering or explain why they have a reasonable excuse not to wear one. If they are not complying with the law, they may be asked to leave the premises.

Police or environmental health officers can also issue a fixed penalty for breaches of these requirements. A first offence is punishable by a penalty of £60 (which doubles for each subsequent offence up to a maximum of £1,920). Repeat offenders could also be prosecuted in court where there is no limit to the fine that may be issued.

If you or your business require more information or advice regarding these new legal requirements, or any other legal matter, please contact Simon Thomas, Partner at Hutchinson Thomas, on simon.thomas@hutchinsonthomas.com or call 01639 640 164.