The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has told retailers that blanket policies to refuse certain customers entry without face coverings “was likely to be discriminatory.”
With social distancing set to be in place for some time, retailers must ensure they don’t unintentionally discriminate against customers with physical and mental health conditions who can be legally exempt from wearing face coverings in enclosed public places.
If businesses discriminate against customers with protected characteristics, they could face a legal case and have to pay compensation, and worst of all, risk their reputation as an inclusive organisation.
In a recent statement, the EHRC said it supported businesses that are trying to ensure public safety but added that “exemptions from the legal requirement to wear masks in enclosed public areas exist for people with legitimate reasons,” including “people assisting someone who needs to lip read.”
They warned that businesses that fail to uphold these exemptions for certain customers could be violating the Equality Act 2010, which “could place some people at a disadvantage and be considered a failure to make reasonable adjustments.”
They said: “We have been made aware of a number of companies with policies making it mandatory for customers and staff to wear face-coverings, with no exemptions for those with legitimate reasons. These included a popular technology store, a luxury department store, and a bus company. We have written directly to these organisations to remind them of their obligations under equality law, and the technology company has since agreed to investigate complaints, undertake staff training and update their website to include a reference to exemptions.”
Last year, the EHRC published a guide to help UK businesses ensure they were disability-inclusive during the pandemic. They said the legal requirement to not discriminate against any customer using their “in-store or online” services still applied during COVID-19.
Their four points are below:
1. Service all customer needs – this includes being aware that customers are protected from direct and indirect discrimination by law, and reasonable adjustments must be made for disabled people.
2. Plan ahead for your customer needs – you might want to adapt the physical store for disabled customers, including policies and procedures.
3. Communicate with your customers – ask them if they need extra support and let them know about the forms of communication available; this might include removing your mask to talk to customers who lip read.
4. Provide staff training – teach staff how to help customers shop safely while social distancing
and support customers with visible and non-visible disabilities, as this will ensure they don’t discriminate against those who are exempt from wearing face coverings.
For more information on the Equality Act 2020, please click here.