Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): retail sector guidance

Guidance for the retail sector, including close contact services such as hairdressers, barbers and beauty salons, which covers procedures for staff and customer safety and an operations checklist.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): retail sector guidance
Workforce planning and support

Workforce planning and support

Information about supporting those who should come to work, and those who should not. 

As a minimum we expect:

  • working from home to continue, where possible. It is recognised that this is not going to be possible for many retail employees but where it is possible for back office / management functions this should be undertaken.
  • health factors to be considered in any phasing of who returns to work, with employees living in vulnerable households only expected to return when new safe working environment measures have been fully tested and a return to onsite work is consistent with individual medical advice
  • new retailing arrangements should be tested and modified in agreement between employers and employees, including by phasing where possible. Employers should be aware of other regulatory compliance measures and any impacts. 
  • employers to also take account of travel to work considerations
  • employers to take account of childcare arrangements, in the case of nurseries and schools not being fully operational

Implementation timetable

An implementation timetable should be undertaken, structured broadly as follows:


Undertake an analysis to ensure you understand where the risks are to your business in being able to operate, in particular taking into account the challenges of maintaining  physical distancing, and enabling hand washing, and fair work principles and is designed to allow business to trade while protecting health and well-being. 


Produce a plan that incorporates your physical distancing and hygiene solutions and identifies what work is required to operate safely – screens, one-way systems, 2 metre zones, staff rooms, PPE provision, hand sanitisers etc. You should also think about what customer communication and displays will be needed to ensure customers are able to comply with your requirements. Your preparation should also include what actions you will take if customers do not comply with your requirements.


Experience confirms the value of trialling the new way of working before a fuller restart is attempted, so a limited-scale pilot to test systems, find weaknesses and make improvements.

Continue home working

As minimising the spread of the virus will remain important in ensuring the overall protection of public health and NHS, planning for a safe working should assume that those able to work from home will continue to do so. Companies should plan for the minimum number of people needed in stores to perform safely and effectively. Employers must ensure that staffing is sufficient for safety, giving consideration to fire exits, manual handling, security and first aid. Staff must be made aware not to report to work if they are symptomatic.

Employee health and wellbeing

Individual health circumstances and protected characteristics should be considered and discussed with employees before prioritising who is asked to work and when. This should recognise the protective measures required to minimise health risks to vulnerable or shielded workers or those living in vulnerable households, exploring whenever possible how these staff can work from home. Consideration of health circumstances and protected characteristics should be part of the risk assessment process. Permission should be sought from individuals before collecting any information on health conditions of those within an employee's household.

Planning should recognise that ongoing physical distancing measures required to reduce the spread of the virus may mean that the number of employees able to be accommodated safely in the workplace will be limited. Companies are encouraged to work with recognised trade unions or employee groups to enable workers to work from home while self-isolating if appropriate. If able to work from home, employees should continue to do so after a period of self-isolation has ended.

Pay for workers who are self-isolating, sick or balancing care responsibilities is likely to be a source of concern for employees. Companies should work with trade unions, workers’ representatives or employees to provide early guidance to workforces on processes and support for individuals affected by these issues. Opportunities to facilitate home working where feasible should be actively pursued and maintained. 

Companies should also acknowledge the range of factors likely to cause stress or anxiety amongst employees, ranging from living arrangements to concerns about travel, schools and relatives impacted by the virus, amongst others. This may have implications for mental health with managers encouraged to be conscious of how these factors may impact on the well-being of individual staff members. Companies and trade unions should identify and direct anyone experiencing mental health issues towards available support, within and out with companies. 

The initial move to home working is likely for many to have been implemented at pace as a result of COVID-19 and therefore may not have involved normal health and safety planning to ensure people have suitable working arrangements and equipment at home. As it is now likely to remain in place for some time, businesses should consider what measures need to be put in place to support their staff to continue to working from home safely and effectively and in a way that addresses both physical and mental health and wellbeing, as well as the practical issues such as provision of laptops, mobile phones, suitable furniture, video conferencing etc. services etc.). Read advice on home working.

Employers should ensure the organisation culture is inclusive and every employee feels they are returning to a supportive and caring environment. The pandemic has had an unequal impact across the workforce, as different employee groups, and individuals will have been affected in diverse ways according to factors such as their job role, and demographic/personal circumstances. Therefore, it is important the organisation fosters an inclusive working environment that does not tolerate discrimination. There is also a risk of victimisation of those infected, suspected, or more vulnerable to COVID-19 which should be addressed. Occupational health advice should be sought whenever possible. 

The following guides from the Health and Safety Executive provide useful sources of information:

Protecting people at higher risk

Shielding was paused on 1 August. Since then we have been advising those who are at highest risk should they contract coronavirus, including those who were formerly asked to shield, to follow the same guidance as the rest of the population stringently and with extra care. The best protection for people who are most at risk from the virus is to stop its spread in our communities. Building on the support we put in place at the start of the pandemic, we are providing the information, advice and tools people need to make choices about their day-to-day activities and interactions, including work.

The Strategic Framework introduces enhanced advice at each protection level to protect people with the highest clinical risk, setting out clearly how advice will change depending on the rates of infection in local areas.  As the levels in a local area change, the protection advice for people on the shielding list in that area will change as well. People at highest risk should still follow the advice for the general public as a minimum, but these levels provide additional advice for areas like work, schools, shopping and contact with others.  

The majority of workplaces can be made safe.  We are not advising people to stop going into work if they cannot work from home, but advise them to ask their employer to use the workplace risk assessment tool to support discussions with their employer so that the necessary adjustments to their workplace can be made. If their workplace cannot be made safe, at Levels 2 and 3, we are suggesting they can discuss whether they need a fit note with their GP or consultant.

At Level 4, the Chief Medical Officer will issue a letter to people on the shielding list which is similar to a fit note and which will last for as long as the individual’s area is under Level 4 restrictions. This letter can be used in the few cases where it is not possible to make their workplace safe. This does not automatically mean they should not attend work.

We are also asking people on the shielding list to sign up to our text message service to get updates to their mobile. To sign up they need to send their Community Health Index (CHI) number to 0786 006 4525 – the  CHI number is on the letters sent to them about shielding.

People who live with someone who is at increased risk are not advised to stay away from work, but should be supported to stringently follow physical distancing guidance. 

Due to what we now know about the higher transmissibility of the new variant, the CMO is now writing to people on the shielding list to advise you that if you cannot work from home, you should not attend work for as long as these additional protective measures are in place in the area where you live or work. 

This additional advice on going to work does not apply to areas that remain at level 3.  If you live or work in a level 3 area, you can continue to go to work if the workplace can be made safe.

Our additional advice to those who had previously shielded has not changed. Please consider all of the advice in the table and think about what is right for you

People who need to self-isolate

Individuals who are advised to stay at home under existing government guidance should not physically come to work. This includes individuals who have symptoms of COVID-19 as well as those who live in a household with someone who has symptoms.

All workers should be supported to follow up to date health protection advice on isolation if they or someone in their household exhibits COVID-19 symptoms. Advice within workplaces should continually remind workers of the symptoms to look for and clear advice should be provided on how to respond if symptoms become apparent while at work.

Advice within workplaces should remind people of the symptoms to look for and clear advice be provided on how to respond should symptoms become apparent at work.

The success of this public health intervention will depend on the continued willingness of the population to comply with these measures. Workers should therefore be supported so isolate if necessary. The Coronavirus (COVID-19) shielding, support and contacts guidance provides useful information and financial advice.

If you are not attending your workplace due to the advice from the Chief Medical Officer, your employer, at their discretion, may be able to furlough you through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme which has now been extended until April 2021. If you are furloughed, HMRC will give a grant to your employer to cover 80% of your normal salary, and your employer will need to pay National Insurance and pension contributions.  You are encouraged to discuss this directly with your employer.

Otherwise you may be eligible for Statutory Sick Pay, Universal Credit, or other benefits, during this period. To find out further information about what benefits you may be entitled to, speak to your employer, or visit or the website or contact Citizens Advice Scotland. Some employers may offer additional financial support for employees who are off work for coronavirus-related reasons which may be set out in your terms and conditions of employment. To find out what financial support you will get, you should contact your employer. 

The Job Retention Scheme does not apply if you are self-employed or to any income from self-employment. However, you may qualify for support under the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme

There are other issues that employers need to consider to ensure workplaces are inclusive. The Equality and Human Rights Commission can provide advice on a range of issues such as non-discrimination, communication with employees on equality issues, adjustments for disabled people, support for pregnant employees, flexible working for those with caring responsibilities, support for employees affected by domestic abuse, how to deal with harassment at work, and mental health issues.

Test and Protect

Test and Protect, Scotland’s approach to implementing the 'test, trace, isolate, support' strategy is a public health measure designed to break chains of transmission of COVID-19 in the community.  

All employers will need to be familiar with our Test and Protect advice for employers, which outlines how to support employees who are required to self-isolate. It is essential that steps are taken to enable all staff to comply with the requirements of Test and Protect and that they are encouraged to report to their managers when they are experiencing symptoms. Employers must also ensure that staff follow advice to self-isolate if they are living with a person who has symptoms or has tested positive, or they have been informed by an NHS contact tracer that they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive. Employees can request an isolation note through NHS Inform.

All staff reporting symptoms of COVID-19 should also be encouraged to arrange a test as soon as possible through NHS Inform. Employers must ensure staff are fully supported when they are required to self-isolate. Until staff have been tested and told if it is safe to leave home, employers should make sure that staff are not placed under any obligation to return to the workplace.

In order to support Test and Protect, it is important that employers have clear and robust records of staff working on each shift, the make-up of teams and details of any visitors to the site, in case of need to contact trace. 

Employers should also monitor reports of illness across their workforce and report to their Local Health Protection Team when more than one case is reported in the workforce which may indicate a potential outbreak. If an outbreak is confirmed, employers will be asked to record details of symptomatic staff and assist with identification of contacts. Identification of an outbreak will also require a review of COVID-19 control plans and identify any breakdown which may need to be addressed to prevent future incidents.

Local Health Protection Teams may themselves identify clusters of cases amongst employees through ‘Test and Protect’. In this situation, employers will again be asked to support the Health Protection Team with further investigation, communication with the workforce, and review of existing control measures. It is advisable for employers to identify a single point of contact to act as liaison with Health Protection Teams for any matters relating to Test and Protect, reporting potential outbreaks and seeking advice on matters relating to COVID-19 illness in the workforce. You can find contact details for your Local Health Protection Team in the HPS guidance for non-healthcare settings.

The Protect Scotland app is a free, mobile phone app designed to help us protect each other and reduce the spread of coronavirus.

The app helps with contact tracing which is vital for slowing the spread of the virus, and for making sure the virus stays at low, manageable levels. It enhances existing contact tracing and quickly alerts app users that are at risk because they have come into close contact (less than 2 meters for 15 minutes or more) with an app user that has since tested positive for COVID-19.

The app signposts to existing guidance on NHS Inform, Ready Scotland and the Scottish Government website, including on what to do if you receive an alert and are advised to self-isolate.

Shift patterns

Companies may develop plans to change shift patterns and opportunities for flexible working patterns to both protect the workforce and optimise productive capacity. While this might help fulfil orders it would require proper consultation with trade unions or employees if it involved a change in employee terms and conditions. 

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Health Protection Scotland (HPS) have provided COVID-19 information and guidance for general (non-healthcare) settings which reiterates that people should not travel if they exhibit any COVID-19 symptoms. The HPS advice and any subsequent safe travelling advice should be factored into company decisions on planned returns to work. The HPS guidance also offers advice on the use of PPE, confirming workplaces should use PPE consistent with local policies and in line with measures justified by a risk assessment. Both the Scottish Government and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recommend a risk based approach focused on a hierarchy of control which seeks to eliminate risks, combat risks at source, adapt workplaces to individual needs, ensure adequate staff training around processes to manage the risk and then use PPE where required. Where PPE is deemed necessary, an adequate supply and quality must be maintained and provided free of charge to workers who need it. Any PPE provided must fit properly.

Face coverings

Regulations came into effect on 10 July 2020 that made it mandatory for face coverings to be worn in retail settings, with additional regulations from 9 October 2020 that made it mandatory for face coverings to be worn in storage and distribution facilities, and for face coverings to be work in communal staff areas in both retail and storage and distribution facilities. There is more advice on face coverings available on our website. Face coverings are in addition to other public health strategies and not a replacement.

The measure applies to customers and staff with exemptions noted in this section. A face covering can be a covering of any type, except a face shield, that covers the mouth and nose. It is recommended that it be made of cloth or other textiles and should be two, and preferably three layers thick, and through which you can breathe. Face shields may be used, but only if they are worn in addition to a face covering underneath, as the evidence shows that they do not provide adequate protection. Customers are expected to provide their own face coverings but we strongly encourage retailers to have their own stocks of face coverings available as an initial encouragement to those customers without face coverings.

Failure to comply with legislation on wearing a face covering is a criminal offence with the potential for a fixed penalty notice to be issued if the law is broken. Shop workers and retailers are not required to enforce this law, but we ask you to talk to customers who are not wearing a face-covering and explain the law. If customers refuse to wear a face covering, retailers and shop workers are asked not to stop customers from entering the store or from being served. The responsibility to wear a face covering rests with the individual.

Customers are required to wear a face covering but there are exemptions, which include:

  • children under 5
  • people with health conditions who cannot put on, wear or remove a face covering because of any physical or mental illness or impairment or disability or without severe distress
  • if people need to take medication or to eat or drink where reasonable necessary
  • temporary removal to comply with a request by a relevant person or another person acting in the course of their duties
  • for customers with a hearing impairment and those who lip-read, and remove the face coverings, as necessary, to provide advice. information or assistance
  • for age-related sales customers are asked to ensure that they remove face coverings in accordance with requests from staff
  • in some food-handling settings where the wearing of a mask could compromise the hygiene practices that are already in place to ensure food safety

Staff only exemption

  • in customer-facing areas where 2 metres physical distancing can be maintained or if there is a partition such as a Perspex screen between customers and staff

Considerations for staff

Where a face covering may need to be temporarily removed, such as the point of sale to ensure age-related sales checks or at staff rest areas, facilities should be provided to manage the risk this could pose e.g. safe distancing/screens and hand sanitiser. Where staff have concerns on wearing face coverings this should be resolved in discussion between staff and managers. 

The guidance will apply in indoor shopping malls including those with covered walkways, retail service settings such as spas, salons hairdressers, barbers.

The mandatory requirement to wear a face covering also extends to wholesale settings/storage and distribution facilities where traders and members of the public are present and in all other communal areas including collection and drop off points.

Food-based retail

This measure is applicable to all businesses which sell food by retail.  It does not apply to hospitality premises which provide table service such as bars, pubs cafes and restaurants for which there is separate guidance on tourism and hospitality. In businesses offering both take-away and table service, face coverings should only be removed in designated seating areas which are provided for customers to eat and drink. Food Standards Scotland’s guidance provides more information on the control of COVID-19 in all businesses involved in food production and service.

It is recognised that there may be certain tasks that staff in food shops need to carry out where face coverings may not be appropriate. For example, where staff are handling food items or preparing meals and it is assessed that the wearing of a mask could increase the risk of other types of infection (non-COVID) from getting into the food which could potentially make it unsafe.

COVID-19 is a respiratory infection and the wearing of face coverings is intended to prevent the spread of infection between people. There is no evidence that it can make people ill through food. It is therefore important that wearing a face covering doesn’t affect the hygiene controls that should already be in place to ensure food is protected from other bacteria and viruses that can cause food poisoning. If there is any concern that wearing a face covering could present a risk to the food, the shop worker would not be required to wear one.


Transport Scotland's Transition Plan sets out guidance on travel and transportation.


The interpretation and use of any guidance should be considered in line with normal protective security operations and practices. Organisations should consult with and involve their security departments in the interpretation and implementation of the guidance. In particular, security should be considered in any revised risk assessment

Under no circumstances do we advise the removal or alteration of, or reduction in, existing protective security measures without providing clear recommendations (e.g. from the National Technical Authority/police CT specialists) on how to maintain effective protective security. 

This should extend to measures not primarily intended to provide a protective security benefit, but nonetheless doing so, for example removal of street furniture that could make moving or queueing pedestrians more vulnerable to vehicle-as-a-weapon attacks. 

Security staff should remain focused on security duties. Where COVID-19 creates additional staffing requirements, e.g. for queue management employers should ensure additional suitable staff resource is made available. Employers should ensure security staff feel safe, e.g. having access to appropriate PPE and hand-washing facilities, and that they are able and confident to raise any concerns. Further detailed guidance can be found on the Centre for the Protection of National Industry - staying secure during COVID-19 and the UKG National Counter Terrorism Security Office webpages. 

Last updated: 11 January 2021



First published: 9 Dec 2020 Last updated: 15 Jan 2021 -