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Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): face coverings and masks

Last updated: 28 Feb 2022 - see all updates
Published: 30 Oct 2020

Rules and guidance on wearing face coverings and masks, including exemptions.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): face coverings and masks
Face coverings at work

Face coverings at work

Who should wear a face covering at work and where they should be worn

Everyone, including visitors and volunteers, must wear a face covering in indoor communal areas and shared spaces at work. However, in the following circumstances you can choose to remove your face covering:

  • when you can stay one metre away from other people, or
  • when there are screens or partitions in place, or
  • if you are exempt from wearing one - see exemptions section

Even where partition is in place or one-metre distancing can be maintained at all times, we would still encourage staff to wear face coverings.

If you choose to wear a face covering in the workplace, even when not required by law, you should be supported to do this.

Some examples of communal areas are:

  • entrances and exits to buildings
  • workstations (including open plan offices)
  • staff rooms and shared kitchens
  • corridors, stairs and lifts
  • training and meeting rooms
  • changing rooms
  • and any other indoor space where people mingle or gather

The face covering rules apply to everyone at work no matter what your role is, or whether you deal with the public or not. They also apply to tradespeople working in people’s homes.

You are also advised to wear a face covering in crowded outdoor areas of the workplace where it is difficult to maintain a safe distance from other people, such as at entrances and exits of buildings and smoking shelters.

What business owners and others must do

A requirement is placed on a person who is responsible for a place of worship, carrying on a business or providing a service. 

They must:

  • have regard to guidance issued by the Scottish Ministers about measures to minimise risk of exposure to coronavirus relating to its premises, business or service, and
  • take such of these measures as are reasonably practicable to minimise the incidence and spread of coronavirus on its premises, for example measures which limit close face to face interaction and maintain hygiene

Under pre-existing regulations, businesses are required to have regard to guidance published by the Scottish Government. The new regulations expand on this, and require businesses to take measures based on the guidance to reduce the incidence and spread of the virus.

The intention is that businesses implement measures to reduce the incidence and spread of the virus. Not all measures need be implemented in every business, service or place of worship. The expectation is that each premise will implement those measures that they deem appropriate for controlling risks. Certain measures will be applicable to all, particularly ensuring information is provided and that individuals are encouraged to wear face coverings in line with the individual requirements.

This guidance sets out the protective measures to be taken in relation to face coverings:

Additional measures are set out in the Safer Businesses and Workplace guidance. Key examples, as made in the statement announcing the regulations, including encouraging staff and members of the public to wear face coverings in line with the requirements on individuals.

What employers should do

If you are an employer, you should ensure that face coverings are worn by everyone in all indoor communal areas of the workplace, unless exemptions apply. This includes break areas and staff rooms. 

You don’t have to pay for face coverings for employees or customers, but it is best practice to have stock of face coverings available to anyone who has forgotten or damaged theirs.

Some employees may not be able to purchase or wash face coverings regularly, so employers should consider how to address any affordability concerns (i.e. having a stock of face coverings available to anyone could address this issue).

The vast majority of people can wear a face covering and, if they are not exempt, then they are legally required to do so in the relevant indoor places. We encourage employers to work closely with employees who have concerns around wearing a face covering to resolve any issues. Further advice and guidance is also available for employers and employees from:

However, if this is not possible, and in extreme cases only, incidents can be escalated to Police Scotland who have enforcement powers and can issue Fixed Penalty Notices. A Fixed Penalty Notice does not carry a criminal conviction.

Ensuring a safer work environment for all

All businesses and workplaces should follow the general safer workplace guidance to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. This includes advice on risk assessments and additional protective measures, such as improved ventilation, to help ensure a safer work environment.

Guidance for employers can be found at Coronavirus (COVID-19): safer businesses and workplaces and Coronavirus (COVID-19): returning to offices. There is also guidance for employers in different sectors.

Health and social care staff have their own guidance on PPE and there is separate guidance on reducing the risks in schools and on safer operation of colleges, and universities and Community Learning and Development (CLD) providers.

If you, someone you live with or an employee are on the highest risk list and returning to work, you can consult our Coronavirus (COVID-19): advice for people at highest risk.

If you are exempt from wearing a face covering

If you are exempt from wearing a face covering at work, for example, because of a disability, you are not required to provide proof of this to your employer.

If you cannot wear a face covering due to a disability, your employer has a legal duty to ensure that decisions made in response to coronavirus do not directly or indirectly disadvantage you, compared to someone who is not disabled.

We would encourage you to work closely with your employer to ensure you are comfortable and safe in your working environment. We would also encourage all employees to undertake an individual risk assessment.

Reasonable adjustments your employer may be able to make to help you include, but are not limited to:

  • moving you to a task that can be carried out behind a partition or screen, or where you can stay at least one metre apart from other people
  • ensuring there is good ventilation in your work area and providing cleaning supplies so surfaces can be regularly cleaned
  • giving you the option to wear a face shield rather than no covering at all - if doing so, other protections should also be in place as face shields don’t provide enough protection on their own

If you feel you are unable to resolve an issue with your employer, you can seek advice from your union, or alternatively, an expert in employment law. Citizens Advice Scotland can help people find appropriate legal advice.

More information about a safer return to work is available, as well as on workplace safety advice for people at highest risk guidance.

Customers who are exempt from wearing face coverings

People who are exempt from wearing a face covering should not be prevented from accessing spaces or services for not wearing one.

Although businesses have the right to formulate their own entry policies, before refusing entry to a person who is not required by law to wear a face covering, businesses should consider carefully how that fits with its legal obligations in relation to:

  • equality and employment
  • COVID-19 risk assessment
  • general health and safety duties

We also encourage businesses to consider what other mitigations, besides face coverings, can they implement to make their business safer for those who cannot wear a face covering.

People might have a physical or mental illness or impairment or disability which you can’t see (this is called a hidden disability and examples include dementia, autism or anxiety) and which means that they are unable to wear a face covering or face shield.

We encourage employers to ensure staff are aware of and considerate of the exemptions.

People do not have to prove that they are exempt, but they might have a Scottish Government face covering exemption card, or another type of card or product, such as the Sunflower lanyard, which signals that they are exempt.

Some workplaces might choose to have a stock of lanyards to offer to exempt customers as it provides a useful visual cue to staff that a customer is exempt and should not be challenged. Some customers might not want to wear a lanyard or carry a face covering exemption card, as they might feel that they are disclosing personal medical information to the public, and this choice should be respected.

If the staff member feels comfortable and confident to engage with the member of the public, then they could say ‘can I offer you a free face covering?’ if the customer doesn’t have one. If the person says that that they can’t wear a face covering then a face shield can be offered, as some people may be exempt from wearing a face covering but may be able to wear a face shield. In this case a face shield is better than nothing.

If a member of the public, who is not exempt, refuses to wear a face covering, some enforcement measures can be taken.


First published: 30 Oct 2020 Last updated: 28 Feb 2022 -