Face masks

A summary of face mask requirements for businesses, as well as information on exemptions for workers and customers.

Face masks under the COVID-19 Protection Framework

Face mask requirements for your business, employees, customers and visitors will depend on what colour of the COVID-19 Protection Framework you’re operating in.  Face masks are not required outdoors under any setting.

  • Green: Face masks are encouraged.
  • Orange: Face masks are mandatory on flights, public transport, in taxis, indoor retail, public facilities, food and beverage services (except when eating), close proximity services, and for workers at indoor events. Face masks are encouraged elsewhere.
  • Workers at events, or providing close proximity services, and food and beverage service must wear a medical-grade face mask while working indoors if they are interacting with customers.
  • Red: Face masks are mandatory on flights, public transport, in taxis, indoor retail, public facilities, food and beverage services (except when eating), close proximity services, and at indoor events. Face masks are encouraged elsewhere.
  • Workers at events, or providing close proximity services, and food and beverage service must wear a medical-grade face mask while working indoors if they are interacting with customers.

You can find detailed information about face mask requirements for your business or service on our COVID-19 Protection Framework page.

COVID-19 Protection Framework

You can order free printed collateral for your business from the Unite against COVID-19 website.

COVID-19 posters for businesses(external link) — covid-19.govt.nz

Minimum requirements for normal and medical-grade face masks

Face masks must cover a person’s nose and mouth and be secured to their head by ear loops or a head loop.

At Red and Orange, at events, or providing close proximity services, and food and beverage service, workers must wear a medical-grade face mask when they are carrying out work indoors.

Types of face masks(external link) - Ministry of Health

Face mask exemptions

Wearing a face mask may be unsuitable for some people due to age, disability or health conditions, so they are not required to wear one. These people may have an exemption pass but are not required to carry it or show it.

Workers who are exempt from wearing a face mask

Businesses and services are required to have systems and processes in place to ensure workers comply with face mask requirements. From 31 May 2022, the Ministry of Health’s personalised face mask exemption pass supports these existing processes by providing greater assurance to employers and customers/visitors that the workers have genuine reasons for not wearing a face mask.

Carrying a personalised exemption pass means a person who is unable to wear a mask can still work within settings that require masks. However, businesses may have policies under the Health and Safety at Work Act that require face masks to be worn under certain circumstances (ie in close proximity with vulnerable workers, poorly ventilated spaces etc). In these instances, businesses and workers are required to work together in good faith to find an appropriate solution, this may mean changes to shifts, duties and operations generally within reason. Businesses should be aware of the requirement not to discriminate against people with disabilities under the Human Rights Act 1993, which could give a person who feels discriminated against cause to make a complaint to the Human Rights Commissioner.

There are no exemptions to wearing a face mask for workers under the Close Contact Exemption Scheme or where the Bubble of One initiative is used. In these cases, workers may need to wear face masks, even if they ordinarily wouldn’t. Where a worker cannot wear a face mask the worker cannot return to work under the Close Contact Exemption Scheme or using the Bubble of One.

Some workers may have personal reasons for not wearing a face mask, for example they have a beard that prevents one from being worn. There is no exemption to face mask requirements for personal reasons. In such situations, businesses should work with their staff in good faith to resolve the situation and explore alternatives.

Resolving problems(external link) — Employment New Zealand

Customers who are exempt from wearing a face mask

Customers may have health or disability reasons which makes wearing a mask inappropriate. In addition, only customers aged 12 years or older are required to wear a face mask in most places.

Be kind and respectful of privacy when approaching a customer who isn’t wearing a face mask. While it’s not always obvious why a face mask is unsuitable, it’s inappropriate to enquire about the nature of a person’s disability or condition.

From 31 May 2022, people who have genuine reasons for not being able to wear a face mask can get a new personalised exemption pass from the Ministry of Health. These new passes will provide greater assurance to businesses that people carrying the pass are exempt from the requirement to wear a mask. The intent of the pass is that it will help businesses to avoid having difficult conversations with customers because the pass will be conclusive.

Businesses are still not required to check that customers who are not wearing a face mask are carrying an exemption pass. They do not need to stop people without face masks from entering their premises.

If businesses or services do choose to enforce face mask requirements, then they can ask customers not wearing a mask if they are carrying a personalised exemption pass. If a person presents a new exemption pass you should allow the person entry into your premises without any further questioning.

The new exemption passes are not the only way that a person can demonstrate that they are unable to wear a face mask, businesses can accept other forms of evidence if they wish. If businesses choose not to accept evidence provided from a customer, then be aware that could amount to a breach of businesses’ duties and obligations not to discriminate against people with disabilities under the Human Rights Act 1993, which could give a person who feels discriminated against cause to make a complaint to the Human Rights Commissioner.

Businesses will always have the right to exclude people for poor or inappropriate behaviour (whether they are exempt from wearing a face mask or not).

Face masks are just one of the tools we have for helping to stop the spread of COVID-19. When a face mask is unsuitable for a customer, it is always important to enable other good health, hygiene and safety practices at the place of business to help keep your workers and customers safe.

Further advice for people who cannot wear a face mask

The Ministry of Health and Unite against COVID-19 websites provide information for people who are unable to wear a face mask:

COVID-19: Advice for people who are unable to wear a face mask(external link) — Ministry of Health NZ

Who does not need to wear a face mask(external link) — covid19.govt.nz

When face masks can temporarily be removed

Aside from exemptions for health and disability reasons, face masks can also be temporarily removed in situations such as to:

  • determine someone’s identity, for example when buying alcohol or completing a financial transaction.
  • take medication.
  • eat or drink, when eating or drinking is permitted on-site under the COVID-19 Protection Framework rules.
  • talk with someone who needs to see others’ mouths to communicate, due to being deaf or hard of hearing.

In such situations, other measures, such as  physical distancing, may be appropriate.

Keeping your workers safe when asking customers to wear face masks

As well as meeting the COVID-19 Protection Framework requirements, businesses must continue to comply with all other laws including the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA).

While businesses are not required to ensure people wear face masks, they may take steps to encourage it.

When considering these steps, businesses should think about how to keep their workers healthy and safe. This should include what you might do if a person becomes angry at the worker who is encouraging people to wear a face mask.

If people refuse to wear a face mask, businesses are not required to take any further action to make them.

You should ensure your workers have adequate support, instruction and information, including knowing what to do if things escalate.

Providing information, training, instruction or supervision for workers(external link) — WorkSafe

You can provide your staff with wording they can use if things escalate, so they are best able to de-escalate a situation. We recommend you are clear when workers should walk away or decide not to continue to engage with the person. Workers have the right to cease or refuse work where they believe that the work would expose them or another person to a serious health and safety risk.

Request assistance to resolve issues relating to the cessation of work(external link) — WorkSafe

You should also consider what kind of behaviour might mean you call the Police and publicising this – for example you may want to put signs up indicating that abuse of your staff, or between customers, will not be tolerated.

More information about face masks can be found on the Unite Against Covid website.

Wear a face mask(external link) — covid19.govt.nz

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