Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): face coverings guidance

Published: 30 Oct 2020
Last updated: 23 Apr 2021 - see all updates

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

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

Face coverings in the workplace

Face coverings must be worn 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 2 metres.

If employees choose to wear a face covering in the workplace even where there is 2 metre distancing or a partition then they should be supported by employers to do so.

We also advise the use of face coverings outdoors where 2 metre distancing is difficult to maintain, such as at entrances and exits of buildings.

We encourage employers to consider providing posters about where and how to wear face coverings.

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.

Support employees to wear face coverings by providing them to those who have forgotten them, or when one becomes dirty or damaged during the working day.

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

If you are providing face coverings for your employees make sure they meet the recommended quality and are two, preferably three, layers thick.

Health and Social Care staff have their own guidance on PPE and there is separate guidance for school staff at guidance on workplace safety for school staff.

There is additional guidance for employers in different sectors, including those in close contact roles at: Coronavirus (COVID-19): creating and maintaining safer workplaces - and guidance for employers in different sectors.

The use of face coverings in a workplace

The vast majority of people can wear a face covering and if they are not exempt from doing so then they are legally obliged to do so in the mandated spaces. The obligation to enforce the Regulations and the public use of face coverings rests with Police Scotland, however the support of employers and staff in encouraging the use of face coverings is vital to their success as a public health intervention.

If someone is not wearing a face covering when they enter your workplace, it’s probably because they’ve forgotten to put it on. Employees should assess whether they feel comfortable and confident to approach customers, and if they do, they can say ‘unless you’re exempt, you need to wear a face covering in this space/building.’

Addressing staff concerns about safety at work

Face coverings are one of a number of measures in place to reduce the risk of transmission. Businesses are required by Regulations to take certain measures to minimise the risks of exposures, and should align with the returning to work guidance.

These measures include:

  • 2 metres physical distancing
  • good ventilation
  • the wearing of face coverings
  • effective hand and respiratory hygiene
  • appropriate risk assessment
  • supporting staff to self-isolate
  • enhanced cleaning regimes
  • supporting working from home and flexible working where possible

Employers have an obligation under the Health and Safety Regulations to ensure employees’ safety in the workplace. This includes ensuring 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. By law, employers must take all reasonable steps to minimise the risk of the incidence and spread of coronavirus. This includes supporting staff to work from home for those roles that can be undertaken remotely.

Employers and service providers also have obligations under the Equality Act 2010 to protect the rights of disabled people and to anticipate and make reasonable adjustments for disabled customers and employees. Disabled people have a right to access services which are as close as reasonably possible to the standard being offered to non-disabled people, including essential services provided by supermarkets. Failure to undertake reasonable adjustments may put workplaces at a risk of challenge for discriminating against disabled people.

Employers should therefore manage their obligations under all relevant legislation, including to undertake risk assessments and make reasonable adjustments for disabled people. The Equality and Human Rights Commission have provided guidance which explains how service providers can ensure they are compliant with the Equality Act 2010.

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): general guidance for safer workplaces

Returning to work from shielding

If you are on the shielding list and returning to work, you and your household members should consult our advice on how to keep yourself safe at work at Coronavirus - support if you've been shielding -  

Face coverings in a canteen or break areas

Please note that whilst a face covering does not have to be worn when eating in a canteen, evidence has shown that the virus can spread in canteens and staffrooms because people are more relaxed, and so tend to stop following the FACTS rules. Particular care should be taken that the measures are followed in these spaces.

Mitigations are:

  • ventilation (e.g. by opening the windows)
  • staggered break times
  • clear spacing signs to guarantee 2 metres distance between individuals
  • emphasis on surface cleaning, hand hygiene and cough etiquette
  • positioning people so they are not face to face

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 PPE. However, best practice is for employers to ensure they have stock of face coverings that an employee (or customer) can use if they have forgotten their face covering.

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.

Again, 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 they don’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. Although it does not provide adequate protection against aerosol transmission, it does provide a limited level of protection from large droplet transmission and is better than wearing nothing at all.

Face coverings and face shields should not be shared or returned after use.

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

Dealing with exemptions and customers

The Regulations are very clear –people must wear a face covering unless they are exempt from doing so because of specific circumstances.

People who are exempt from wearing a face covering should not be denied access to any space. 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, a business 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 equalities.

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 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 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 explain that wearing a face covering is mandatory if they feel comfortable and confident doing this.

If the customer still refuses to wear a face covering then the last option is to report the individual. Police Scotland 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 | Police Scotland or using the usual emergency services channels.

Dealing with exemptions and employees

There is no requirement to prove that you are exempt from wearing a face covering, such as through a medical note or other documentation.

We expect appropriate steps to be taken locally to implement the workplace guidance in a way that is sensitive to employee well-being. Employers can request that employees wear a face covering to ensure the workplace remains safe in line with health and safety legislation. However, employees should not be ‘forced’ to wear a face covering and a workforce risk assessment should be undertaken to ensure all staff feel confident they are being appropriately protected.

Face coverings are one of a number of measures in place to reduce the risk of transmission. Businesses are required by Regulations to take certain measures to minimise the risks of exposures, and should align with the returning to work guidance.

Therefore, if an employee is exempt from wearing a face covering, then reasonable adjustments should be made, such as:

  • moving the staff member to a task that can be undertaken behind a partition or where at least 2 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 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.

Employers must follow pre-existing protocols for assessing an employee’s fitness to undertake their work and this can include seeking confirmation from the employee’s GP. Read more information for staff and employers.

Dismissal of employees who are exempt from wearing face coverings

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.

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.

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.

In extreme cases, where an incident cannot be resolved then Police Scotland do have enforcement powers. If there has been a breach of a legal requirement to wear a face covering, Police Scotland have powers to issue a Fixed Penalty Notice. A Fixed Penalty Notice does not carry a criminal conviction.

First published: 30 Oct 2020 Last updated: 23 Apr 2021 -