Technology giant Apple appears to have been forced by the equality watchdog to admit that it was wrong to eject disabled people from its shops for failing to wear face masks, when government guidance stated that they were exempt from the rules.
Coronavirus guidance from the UK government – applying in England – makes it clear that people who cannot wear face coverings for impairment-related reasons do not need to do so when visiting shops and other service-providers, and do not need to provide evidence of their exemption.
But despite these rules, Apple and other retailers and service-providers have prevented disabled customers who were exempt from the rules from entering their premises if they refused to wear a face covering.
Now the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has written to 17 organisations that have imposed blanket bans on those not wearing face coverings.
EHRC said it had written to the organisations it has received complaints about, including “a popular technology store, a luxury department store and a bus company”, to advise them of their legal obligations and warn them about the risk of discriminating against disabled people.
It said the technology store – which it declined to name – has now agreed to investigate the complaints made against it, carry out staff training, and update its website to include a reference to face mask exemptions.
In November, Disability News Service (DNS) reported that Apple could be facing multiple legal claims of disability discrimination under the Equality Act because of its actions.
Apple this week refused to confirm that it was the technology store referred to by the commission, and did not respond to requests to comment.
In September, EHRC published guidance to remind retailers of their legal responsibilities not to discriminate against disabled customers and to provide them with reasonable adjustments.
Baroness [Kishwer] Falkner, EHRC’s chair, said: “The vast majority of us are able to wear face coverings when required and must do so, but there are people with conditions that prevent them from wearing masks.
“Acknowledgment of this is precisely why exemptions are written into the law.
“As lockdown eases and businesses reopen, proper policies must be in place.
“The balance must be struck between protecting staff and customers and supporting those with genuine exemptions.”
*For sources of information and support during the coronavirus crisis, visit the DNS advice and information page
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