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COVID-19: Retail – join the queue to re-opening

The Government has set a target date of 15 June 2020 for the reopening of all non-essential retail stores as lockdown is eased. This follows the announcement that car showrooms and outdoor markets can open from 1 June 2020.

The Prime Minister has confirmed that this move remains contingent on continued progress in keeping the infection rate down and retailers adhering to new guidelines to protect workers and customers. 

The announcement is welcomed by retailers who are now busy getting ready for a reopening. Non-essential retail will include shops selling clothes, shoes, toys, furniture, books, and electronics, plus tailors, auction houses, photography studios, and indoor markets. Shops like supermarkets and pharmacies, deemed as essential, have continued to trade throughout the pandemic.

Measures requested in the COVID-secure guidance include notices in shop windows to demonstrate awareness and understanding of the guidance, and a commitment to safety measures for workers and customers. These include:

  • storing returned items for 72 hours before placing them back on the shop floor,
  • placing protective coverings on large items such as beds or sofas which may be touched by customers, and
  • frequent cleaning of objects and surfaces that are touched regularly by employees/customers, including door handles, key pads, self-checkouts and trolleys/baskets.

These new measures will place an additional burden on retail stores which has already led to many employers considering which staff are essential for the running of the business. Businesses have already embarked on collective consultation and restructure programmes, and are number crunching to ensure that there is a minimum number of staff in a retail space for it to operate safely.

We have seen how supermarkets have dealt with the operational demands of customers, however the shopping experience and interactions with customers is different in non- essential stores. Therefore implementing the following measures should be considered to avoid breaching social distancing rules:

  • Staggering the timing of staff breaks
  • Staggering arrival and departure times
  • Introducing one-way flow systems for staff at lifts, locker rooms, corridors entry and exit points.

The key to any successful changes in an employment environment is consistent and clear communication. To get the buy in of staff an employer needs to ensure that they are aware of the risk assessments undertaken and, where appropriate, consult with trade union representatives. Any changes of methods to working such as cleaning a counter once they have served a customer, ensuring screens are in place and handwashing frequency will need to be communicated to staff and, for more difficult tasks, some training programmes will need to be implemented prior to their return.

The guidelines are expected to have a major impact on how we shop. Only time will tell how these measures will be implemented and received, and whether customers will be willing to join the queue again or will continue shopping online. 

Heyma is currently advising businesses to weigh up the legal financial and practical implications of COVID 19 in the workplace. If you require more information on this area of Employment law, please contact Heyma Holmes on heyma.holmes@bpe.co.uk 


These notes have been prepared for the purpose of an article only. They should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice.

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