Posted on: 26 August 2021

Refusing service to customers

During the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses had the right to refuse entry to customers if they weren’t wearing a face mask, unless there was a medical reason as to why they couldn’t wear a face covering. Whilst refusal of service or entry was never popular, it was designed to protect people throughout the pandemic.

Now that COVID-19 measures have been eased, face masks are now no longer mandatory in shops, restaurants or on public transport in England, but some businesses may still want customers to wear face masks as a measure to prevent further infections.

Take a look at some of the rules around businesses being able to refuse service to customers whilst COVID-19 is still a threat, and the rights of businesses moving beyond the pandemic.

Refusing service whilst COVID-19 is still a threat

As of July 2021, there are no COVID-19 measures in place in England. Face masks are no longer required, there is no requirement for social distancing, working from home is no longer recommended by the UK government, night clubs have reopened and large-scale events are now going ahead as usual.

Because of this, many businesses have required their customers to continue to wear face masks and observe social distancing measures to ensure the safety of their staff and other customers.

If you want to insist that your customers wear a face covering at your business, you will be allowed to refuse to serve customers as long as you do so without basing your decision on what is known as a protected characteristic. We can find out more about protected characteristics in the next section.

Refusing service beyond COVID-19

In the UK, protected characteristics are defined in the Equality Act (2010), and are designed to protect people in the UK from discrimination, both in the workplace and around the country in public life. In the Equality Act (2010), protected characteristics are:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage or civil partnership
  • Pregnancy or on maternity
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Gender

If you are refusing service to a customer based on any of these attributes, you will be in breach of the Equality Act (2010) and could face fines or imprisonment.

Some of the reasons you could refuse service to customers include:

  • Age-restricted items, such as alcohol or cigarettes
  • Intoxication
  • If they are in breach of a dress code
  • If they are a threat to staff or other customers

If you refuse service for these reasons, you may experience some displeasure from your customer, so if you work in an industry where these types of refusals may happen, consider giving your team training on conflict resolution.

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