Q: I run a small family business selling building products to local tradesmen. It has been really difficult trying to enforce Covid regulations with customers over the past year. Eventually we had to close the gates and use a ‘call before you collect’ system so that people queued outside our premises and it was not our responsibility if they did not want to wear a mask. Now we have a different problem, namely staff who are refusing to wear a mask when interfacing with customers because the customers don’t bother. Can we sack staff if they refuse to wear a mask?
A: There has recently been a landmark case in which an employment tribunal ruled that company bosses can sack workers for refusing to wear a face mask. In one of the pandemic’s first Covid related employment tribunal cases, a delivery driver refused to wear a mask in his cab when communicating with a client through the open cab window at a site requiring the wearing of masks. In the case of your business, your workers are operating in a shared space as well as interacting with customers, so it is important that they adhere to your rules.
It might be worth in the first instance issuing a warning to your workers and pointing out that the requirement to wear a mask is not so much for their own protection but to protect others from the potential Covid risk when droplets are emitted from the mouth when speaking. It may also be the right time to see whether your contracts of employment would benefit from being revised.
Many employers are currently looking at redrafting their terms of employment due to the unprecedented situation brought on by the Covid pandemic. An employment solicitor would be able to advise you on what changes to make and how to make them.
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