Coronavirus / When do I have to wear a face mask?

When do I have to wear a face mask?

Are there rules requiring me to wear a face mask any more? Can I be denied entry to a venue if I’m not wearing a mask? Am I being discriminated against if so? Our coronavirus advice and information hub has you covered

Disclaimer: this article is for general information. It’s not intended to be used as legal advice. For information on how to get legal advice, please see our page here.

This information was correct as of 17 August 2022 but is subject to possible changes.

This page sets out the law and guidance which applies in England only.

Am I legally required to wear a face mask?

On 27 January 2022 The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings) (England) Regulations 2021 expired. This means you are no longer required by law to wear a face covering anywhere.

Do I have to wear a face mask on the tube?

Transport for London (TfL) removed their requirement to wear face masks in February 2022.

TfL may still encourage travellers to wear masks in order to limit the spread of respiratory diseases, including coronavirus.

Is there anywhere I might still be required to wear a face mask?

Many healthcare settings still require staff and visitors to wear face masks. This is especially relevant when anyone on their premises may have a higher risk of becoming seriously unwell from COVID-19.

These are their own policies for their premises. If you refuse to adhere to these policies, they may be able to deny you entry.

These policies must not be discriminatory. They also may accept reasonable excuses. However, these are not the same thing.

In order to be discriminatory, the policies need to fulfil the requirements of the Equality Act 2010 or Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. More information about these definitions is provided below.

Whether they accept reasonable excuses, and what they consider to be a reasonable excuse, comes down to the decision of the healthcare setting’s management. Previously, there was a list of reasonable excuses provided in the regulations which premises were required to accept. As the regulations have been repealed, so has this list and so has the requirement to accept them. There is also no longer a concept of being “exempt”.

Other businesses may also choose to enforce face mask policies. Similarly, they may be able to deny you entry if you don’t adhere to these policies, as long as the policies aren’t discriminatory.

Should I still wear a face mask?

Although there is no legal requirement to wear them any more, there is still substantial evidence that face masks help to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Therefore, government guidance still recommends wearing a face mask:

  • if you have symptoms of COVID-19 or have received a positive test result
  • when you are coming into close contact with someone at higher risk of becoming seriously unwell from COVID-19 or other respiratory infections
  • when COVID-19 rates are high and you will be in close contact with other people, such as in crowded and enclosed spaces
  • when there are a lot of respiratory viruses circulating, such as in winter, and you will be in close contact with other people in crowded and enclosed spaces

Am I being discriminated against?

In England and Wales, the main protection against discrimination is found in the Equality Act 2010. Any laws on wearing face masks and the policies of any private or public businesses and services must not breach this Act.

As of 27 January 2022, there is no general law requiring you to wear face masks in certain places. However, as noted above, health care settings and other businesses are allowed to have their own policies requiring people to wear face masks in their premises.

Indirect discrimination

These policies may apply to everyone, but some people may be less able to fulfil them. For example, someone with a physical disability affecting their dexterity might be unable to put a mask on over their head.

This could be indirect discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. However, for this to be the case, the issue must be connected to a protected characteristic.

The protected characteristics under the Equality Act

There are nine protected characteristics:

  1. age,
  2. disability,
  3. gender reassignment,
  4. marriage and civil partnership,
  5. pregnancy and maternity,
  6. race,
  7. religion or belief,
  8. sex, and
  9. sexual orientation.

Note that ‘disability’ and ‘religion or belief’ have specific legal definitions here.

This means that some cases of disadvantage will be discriminatory, but not all.

If you are unable to wear a mask due to a disability and are therefore refused entry to a business, this may be indirect discrimination. If you choose not to wear a mask and are therefore refused entry to a business, this is not indirect discrimination. This is because disability is a protected characteristic. Personal choice is not.

Discrimination under Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights

Public authorities are also required to comply with the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA). This brings most of the rights from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into UK law. The NHS, for example, are a public authority, and therefore must comply with the HRA.

Article 14 of the ECHR states that no one should be denied access to any of the other rights in the ECHR on the basis of certain characteristics. The list of characteristics in Article 14 is more open-ended than the list in the Equality Act. This means that other characteristics might be relevant for a discrimination claim against the NHS or other public authorities. However, it must be shown that another ECHR right is under threat due to that characteristic.

If someone was denied access to emergency life-saving treatment because they were unable to wear a mask, this might breach their right to life (Article 2) in a discriminatory way (Article 14).

However, this judgement would have to be taken on a case by case basis. For example, if the medical treatment in question was elective, Article 2 would not be relevant and therefore a discrimination claim couldn’t be brought on that basis.

In addition, many health settings have face masks available and have staff who might be willing to assist you in putting one on in a way which would not disadvantage you.

If a policy is discriminatory against you, then you can bring a civil claim against the business or service provider in question. If you think that you may have been discriminated against you should contact a solicitor to discuss the details of your case. You can find information on our I Need a Lawyer page here. The Equality Advisory and Support Service may also be able to help.

What is a reasonable excuse for not wearing a face mask?

Health settings and businesses can have their own policies which include their own exceptions. As long as these exceptions make allowances for the requirements of the Equality Act, they have discretion over what to include or not include.

However, it is worth noting that many might choose to follow the previous rules. The face mask regulations provided a list of reasonable excuses for not wearing a mask. This list was non-exhaustive, which means that other excuses may also be considered reasonable if they are not in the list but are similar to the excuses which were.

The regulations previously included the following as reasonable excuses for not wearing a mask:

  • you can’t put on, wear or remove a mask because of a physical or mental impairment or disability
  • you can’t put on, wear or remove a mask without severe distress
  • you need to communicate to someone who relies on lip reading
  • you need to remove your mask to avoid harm or injury to yourself or others
  • you need to remove your mask to receive medical treatment
  • you are entering the premises to avoid injury or harm and do not have a mask with you
  • you need to remove your mask to eat or drink
  • you need to remove your mask to take medication
  • an employee at the premises asks you to remove your mask to check your identity
  • a police officer, PCSO, or local authority officer asks you to remove your mask.

What are my rights on this?

Find out more about your rights and how the Human Rights Act protects them

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