Most supermarkets will be encouraging workers on the shop floor to mask up from tomorrow as it becomes compulsory for customers to wear face coverings in shops in England.
While current government guidance does not make it mandatory for shopworkers to wear coverings, many retailers are moving from making them available for staff who want them to actively encouraging their use.
The shift comes amid concerns around ensuring shoppers comply without creating flashpoints and increasing the risk of shopworkers ending up on the receiving end of violent or verbal abuse.
This week Aldi told The Grocer it would be compulsory for staff on the shop floor to wear masks from Friday unless they had a relevant medical condition.
This would not apply to checkout staff already working behind Perspex screens, it added.
Asda CEO Roger Burnley this week sent an Instagram message to staff urging them all to wear masks from Friday.
He said moves in Scotland which saw masks become mandatory for the vast majority of shop staff as from last week had been brought in with “very little disruption”.
“I want to thank everyone in Scotland for responding to this change,” he said, adding to staff in England: “As I’ve said throughout the pandemic, we’re all in this together and wearing a mask is a great way to demonstrate that we take this message really seriously.”
Tesco is also “strongly encouraging” its staff to wear face coverings from Friday, unless they have health problems or are already working behind a protective screen. Sainsbury’s and the Co-op said they were adopting a similar approach.
A Waitrose spokesman said: “In line with government advice, it is not compulsory for shop or supermarket staff to wear face coverings, however visors and coverings are available for all partners should they wish to do so.
“Partners are encouraged to wear one of these where social distancing cannot be achieved in our shops.”
It is thought shoppers are likely to be more compliant if they see staff also wearing coverings.
However, the BRC strongly urged against staff being made responsible for enforcing rules for customers.
“Retailers have made the safety of staff and customers their top priority and we support measures aimed at protecting the health of the public,” said CEO Helen Dickinson.
“While retailers will play their part in communicating the new rules on face coverings, they must not be the ones enforcing these rules. With hundreds of incidents of violence and abuse directed at retail staff every day, we welcome the announcement that enforcement will be left to the authorities, rather than potentially putting hardworking retail colleagues in harm’s way.”
She added: “There must be flexibility for colleagues who are in stores all day and can already benefit from other safety measures such as protective screens and two-metre distancing.”