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COVID-19: What to do when a customer refuses to wear a mask

Catherine Henry Lawyers
Catherine Henry Lawyers

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COVID-19 What to do when a customer refuses to wear a mask

What can you do if a customer refuses to wear a mask or claims they are exempt from wearing a mask? How do you protect staff and other customers?

We recently acted for a client who owns a retail business. She was being threatened with legal action for discrimination from a customer because staff would not serve her unless she wore a mask.

The issue for our client was that the customer merely said that she had a medical exemption. The NSW Government directive clearly states that the person must carry the evidence.

Our client’s customer couldn’t provide any evidence and incorrectly said she didn’t have to supply it.

What are the rules regarding wearing face masks in business premises?

Understandably, the rules around mask wearing will change as the COVID-19 pandemic situation changes.

At the time of writing this blog, the rules for businesses in regional NSW are that everyone must wear a face mask inside venues, including workplaces and places of business.

For the latest regulations click here.

How did we help our client?

We were able to help our client in several ways.

Because the customer was threatening legal action, which can cost a business time and money, we responded to the customer on her behalf. This can help influence a complainant to reconsider taking action, knowing a law firm is already involved and has reviewed the situation.

Our client also wanted to have expert validation of the rules and to know that she was complying.

We were able to give her advice (a policy and process) for her and her staff to follow going forward.

Our advice on customer mask wearing

Our advice is for business owners and staff to request anyone refusing to wear a mask to produce either a:

  • medical certificate signed by a doctor
  • medical certificate signed by an NDIS provider
  • statutory declaration (stat dec) signed by the customer or their carer/person responsible.

If the customer (or supplier or visitor) cannot or does not produce the required documentation, say

“I’m sorry but the NSW government’s directive says that I need to see documentation proving you do not need to wear a mask. For your own safety and the safety of our staff and other customers, it is vital that we all follow government regulations, particularly mask wearing, to stop the spread of this deadly disease.” 

Make sure you have a copy of the latest Government directive on hand – at reception or the entrance to your premises.

If one of the above documents is produced, you may serve the customer. But your staff should insist that customers practice social distancing (where possible – it is difficult for some close contact businesses). If the customer is coughing or displaying other cold-like symptoms businesses should have the right to refuse service/entry to their private property.

Other COVID safe tips
  • Check the NSW Health and Australian Government websites regularly to ensure you are following the latest directives. (You could make it a task in your work diary, so you don’t forget.)
  • Remind your staff of any changes to directives, and the importance of hand hygiene, social distancing and mask wearing for their safety and the safety of others.
  • Encourage and support your staff to get vaccinated. It is an important way to reduce transmission and the severity of the disease.

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