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.

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 or shielded 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 in phasing a restart
  • 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 restart, in particular taking into account the challenges of maintaining  physical distancing, and enabling hand washing, and fair work principles and is designed to enable a restart that allows the business to trade while protecting health and well-being. 


Produce a re-start plan that incorporates your physical distancing and hygiene solutions  and identifies what  work is required to be carried out before a restart – screens, one-way systems, 2 metre zones, staff room, PPE provision, hand sanitisers etc. Then briefings and inductions into the new ways of working. These all take time and require resourcing and commitment. 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 before a fuller restart is essential. Pilots could include messaging to the public advising them that returning to a pre-COVID retail experience will take time.

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 return to work 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. A phased return will be necessary for many businesses. 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 return 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 or shielded 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. The workforce may have questions or concerns about returning to work. 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 sheltering, 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 with lockdown 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. 

Home working will be new to many and is likely to have been implemented at pace as a result of COVID-19 and therefore, not have involved normal health and safety planning to ensure people have suitable working arrangements and equipment at home. As it is anticipated that people able to work from home will continue to do so, companies will also need to consider what measures need to be put in place to support working from home safely and effectively (for example, provision of laptops, mobile phones, video conferencing 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

The shielding category consists of those who have been identified as being at the highest risk from severe illness from COVID-19. Individuals in the shielding category have been advised not to work outside the home, and this will continue until such times as the general advice to shield is paused. See NHS Inform for further information. People who live with someone who is shielding are not advised to stay away from work; however, they should be supported to stringently follow physical distancing guidance. 

Those identified as being at increased risk from COVID-19 are those following physical distancing advice more stringently. As they are at higher risk of severe illness (for example, people with some pre-existing conditions) they have been asked to take extra care in observing physical (social) distancing. People who live with someone who is at increased risk are not advised to stay away from work, but as above, should be supported to stringently follow physical distancing guidance. 

Workers who are shielding should not be compelled to attend work outside the home for as long as the shielding advice is in place. If workers who are shielded cannot work from home, companies should make arrangements to ensure those staff are not disadvantaged due to obeying medical advice. Companies should explore measures such as suspending the normal application of sickness or disciplinary procedures related to attendance in these cases.  

The shielding advice is in place until at least 31 July. If the shielding advice is paused after this, then those who were shielding would be categorised as at increased risk and should follow physical distancing measures more stringently than the general population, and be risk assessed to ensure they can do this. The default position should remain that wherever possible, people should work from home and should only return to the workplace where they can do so safely.

If those at increased risk (but not in the shielding category) individuals cannot work from home, they should be offered the option of the safest available on-site roles, enabling them to maintain physical distancing. Workplace activities should be carefully assessed to identify if they involve an unacceptable level of risk. 

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 continually 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.

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.

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

The First Minister has announced on 2 July that there is to be a requirement to wear mandatory face coverings in retail settings.  These regulations will come in to effect on 10 July 2020. This follows a legislative requirement to wear face coverings in public transport from 22 June 2020. The timing of the restart of the Scottish economy is being driven by careful consideration of the public health evidence. Re-opening of the wider retail sector is being undertaken in a gradual manner to ensure that we make steady progress and do not need to stall progress or revert to a previous stage. Face coverings have a major role to play in this strategy. 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.

This 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.

The measure covers the full range of different indoor retail outlets with some exemptions.

Customers in retail environments 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

  • predominantly based in non-customer facing areas, such as stock-rooms

  • in customer-facing areas where 2m physical distancing can be maintained or if there is a partition such as a perspex screen between customers and staff
  • outwith store opening hours

Considerations for staff

The wearing of a face covering can be uncomfortable and may not be  appropriate for long durations of time, employers should therefore consider providing opportunities for staff to temporarily remove face coverings in non-public areas.  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. Staff who regularly pass between areas that have customers present and non-customer facing areas should wear face coverings. Where staff have concerns on wearing face coverings this should be resolved in discussion between staff and managers. Although it is not mandated for staff to wear face coverings in all circumstances listed in the list above it is strongly encouraged that they do wear them. 

Retail settings which are included  / excluded from the mandatory measure

The guidance will apply in indoor shopping malls including those with covered walkways, retail service settings such as hairdressers, barbers  and in wholesale settings where members of the public are present. It is also strongly recommended that face coverings are worn in public toilets in retail environments.

The mandatory requirement to wear a face covering does not extend to trade customers in for example wholesale retail and high street financial services are also exempt from this measure although we still strongly recommend that face coverings form part of a risk assessment in these settings.

Food-based retail

This measure is applicable to all businesses which sell food by retail which includes shops and take-aways.  It does not apply to hospitality premises which provide table service such as bars, pubs cafes and restaurants. 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. Scottish Government guidance on tourism and hospitality also provides additional information for pubs, cafes and restaurants.

A face covering must be worn by all people in the settings listed below, except where an exemption applies (as defined in the legislation), or where there is a ‘reasonable excuse’ not to wear a face covering.

  • any premises which open to members of the public and used for the retail sale or hire of goods or services, such as shops, takeaway restaurants, estate agents, beauty parlours. This does not include hospitality premises such as bars and pubs or certain hospitality premises with table service such as cafes and restaurants.

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: 8 August 2020



First published: 25 Aug 2020 Last updated: 25 Aug 2020 -