Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): face coverings

Published: 30 Oct 2020
Last updated: 24 Sep 2021 - see all updates

Explains where you need to wear a face covering and exemptions from wearing one.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): face coverings
Face coverings in the workplace

Face coverings in the workplace

Face coverings must be worn by a staff member, visitor or volunteer in any indoor communal area in a workplace and where there are no measures in place to keep people separated by either a partition or distance of at least 1 metre.

Communal areas in the workplace are those where people mingle or gather, including:

  • entrances and exits to buildings
  • workstations (including open planned spaces)
  • staff rooms
  • stairs and lifts
  • training and meeting rooms
  • changing rooms

If employees choose to wear a face covering in the workplace even where there is 1 metre distancing or a partition then they should be supported to do so by employers.

We also advise the use of face coverings in crowded spaces where it is difficult to maintain a safe distance where you come into contact with people outside your household, such as at entrances and exits of buildings.

Employers should ensure that face coverings are worn in all indoor communal areas of the workplace, not just public facing roles, in accordance with the Regulations. This includes break areas. We encourage employers to consider providing posters about where and how to wear face coverings.

Employers do not have to pay for face coverings for employees, or members of the public accessing their space, because they are not classed as face masks or PPE. However, it is best practice for employers to ensure they have stock of face coverings for an employee or customer to use if they have forgotten their own face covering, or it becomes wet, dirty or damaged during the working day.

Some employees may not be able to purchase or wash face coverings regularly, so employers should consider how to address any affordability concerns.

If you are providing face coverings for your employees we advise that they are two, preferably three, layers thick.

The vast majority of people can wear a face covering and, if they are not exempt, then they are legally required to do so in the relevant indoor places. The police, or a relevant person (which means someone designated by the local authority), have powers to carry out enforcement action in respect of failures to comply with the law. However, the support of employers and staff in encouraging the use of face coverings is vital to their success as a public health intervention.

There is additional guidance for employers in different sectors at:  Coronavirus (COVID-19): safer businesses and workplaces and Coronavirus (COVID-19): returning to offices. There is also guidance for employers in different sectors.

Health and social care staff have their own guidance on PPE and there is a separate guidance on reducing the risks in schools.

Addressing staff concerns about face coverings and safety at work

Employers generally have legal responsibilities to ensure employees’ and customers’ health and safety in the workplace. To help comply with these responsibilities, employers should ensure that risk assessments have been undertaken to identify any mitigations to prevent against the transmission of coronavirus and to ensure that these mitigations are adhered to. 

There is guidance for employers about carrying out general workplace risk assessments to make the workplace as safe as is reasonably practical for everyone at Coronavirus (COVID-19): safer businesses and workplaces

Returning to work if on the highest risk list

If you are on the highest risk list and returning to work, or if someone you live with is returning to work, you can consult our Coronavirus (COVID-19): advice for people at highest risk.

Face coverings in a canteen or break areas

Please note that whilst a face covering does not have to be worn when eating or drinking, it is assumed that the virus can spread in canteens and staffrooms because people are more relaxed, and so tend to stop following the protective measures. Particular care should be taken to ensure that the measures are followed in these spaces.

Some additional mitigations to face coverings are:

  • ventilation (e.g. by opening the windows)
  • staggered break times
  • clear spacing signs to guarantee a careful distance of at least 1 metre distance between individuals
  • emphasis on surface cleaning, hand hygiene and cough etiquette
  • positioning people so they are not face to face

People not wearing a face covering in the workplace – exemptions and exclusions

Face coverings exemptions in the work place

There is no requirement for members of staff or the general public to prove that they are exempt from wearing a face covering in regulated spaces, such as through a medical note or other documentation.

Employers have legal obligations to ensure that decisions made in response to coronavirus do not directly or indirectly discriminate against workers with protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010. If a staff member is exempt from wearing a face covering due to a disability within the meaning of section 6 of the Equality Act 2010, employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to avoid putting the disabled staff member at a substantial disadvantage compared to a person who is not disabled.

Reasonable adjustment could be:

  • moving the staff member to a task that can be undertaken behind a partition or where at least 1 metres distance can be maintained
  • ensuring good ventilation in their work area and providing the necessary cleaning supplies for constant surface cleaning

Alternatively, they may be able to wear a face shield, rather than not wearing any face covering at all. However, the use of face shields by those employees who cannot wear face coverings must be accompanied by other mitigation measures. This is because the evidence shows that they do not provide adequate protection on their own.

If staff feel they are being unfairly treated at work, they can seek advice from their union, or alternatively, an expert in employment law. Citizens Advice Scotland can help people find appropriate legal advice.

More information about a safer return to work is available, as well as on workplace safety advice for people at highest risk guidance.

If an employee refuses to wear a face covering – people without exemptions

If employers have followed the steps outlined above then they should continue to follow the usual disciplinary protocols to resolve workplace issues. We encourage incidents to be resolved locally in the workforce.

However, if this is not possible, and in extreme cases only, incidents can be escalated to Police Scotland or to a relevant person designated by the local authority, who have enforcement powers and can issue Fixed Penalty Notices. A Fixed Penalty Notice does not carry a criminal conviction.

Customers and visitors

Spare face coverings

We encourage workplaces to stock spare face coverings, including transparent face coverings and some face shields, for customers who don’t have one. These should be placed in accessible spaces, such as entrances and exits.

Face coverings and face shields should be kept in protective wrapping and not exposed to open air in public spaces as there is the possibility that they could be contaminated with invisible germs. Face coverings and face shields should not be shared or returned after use.

If the staff member feels comfortable and confident to engage with the member of the public, then they could say ‘can I offer you a free face covering?’ if the customer doesn’t have one. If the person says that that they can’t wear a face covering then a face shield can be offered, as some people may be exempt from wearing a face covering but may be able to wear a face shield. In this case a face shield is better than nothing.

Customers who are exempt from wearing face coverings

The Regulations are very clear: people must wear a face covering in the relevant indoor places unless they are exempt.

People who are exempt from wearing a face covering should not be denied access to spaces or services. Although businesses have the right to formulate their own entry policies, before refusing entry to a person who is not required by law to wear a face covering, businesses should consider carefully how that fits with its COVID-19 risk assessment, its general health and safety duties, and other legal obligations in relation to employment and equality.

People might have a physical or mental illness or impairment or disability which you can’t see (this is called a hidden disability and examples include dementia, autism or anxiety) and which means that they are unable to wear a face covering or face shield. We encourage employers to ensure staff are aware of and considerate of the exemptions.

People do not have to prove that they are exempt, but they might have a Scottish Government face covering exemption card, or another type of card or product, such as the Sunflower lanyard, which signals that they are exempt.

Some workplaces might choose to have a stock of lanyards to offer to exempt customers as it provides a useful visual cue to staff that a customer is exempt and should not be challenged. Some customers might not want to wear a lanyard or carry a face covering exemption card, as they might feel that they are disclosing personal medical information to the public, and this choice should be respected.

You can find more information about exemptions in the face coverings exemptions section. 

If a member of the public refuses to wear face coverings – people without exemptions

If a member of the public enters a workplace and refuses to wear a face covering and does not have an exemption then staff members can, if they feel comfortable and confident doing so, explain that wearing a face covering is mandatory in this space.  Organisations have the right to refuse access to premises based on their risk based assessments, unless the person is exempt from wearing a face covering. 

If the customer still refuses to wear a face covering then the last option is to report the individual. Police Scotland or a relevant person designated by the local authority, have enforcement powers to attend an incident and issued a Fixed Penalty Notice. A face covering incident can be reported on the Covid-19 Reporting form from Police Scotland


First published: 30 Oct 2020 Last updated: 24 Sep 2021 -