Last reviewed 20 April 2021

As lockdown eases and businesses begin to reopen, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has reminded organisations that they need to be wary of setting up blanket policies barring people from accessing services without a facemask.

While it fully supports businesses putting policies in place to keep the public and their staff safe, it highlights that exemptions from the legal requirement to wear masks in enclosed public areas exist for people with legitimate reasons.

These include people who cannot wear a mask due to physical or mental health conditions or people assisting someone who needs to lip read.

Not applying these exemptions could, the EHRC warns, place some people at a disadvantage and be considered a failure to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010.

Baroness Kishwer Falkner, who chairs the Commission said: “The vast majority of us are able to wear face coverings when required and must do so, but there are people with conditions that prevent them from wearing masks. Acknowledgment of this is precisely why exemptions are written into the law.”

While some selfish people may attempt to abuse the system, she went on, the fact is that there are people who cannot wear masks and must still be allowed to access essential services.

The EHRC has produced guidance for supermarkets, reminding them of their duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people. This can be found at https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/advice-and-guidance/retailers%E2%80%99-legal-responsibility-disabled-customers.

“The balance must be struck between protecting staff and customers and supporting those with genuine exemptions,” Baroness Falkner concluded.