• Avinder Laroya

5 Useful Legal Tips To Kickstart Businesses In The Retail Sector - COVID-19

Updated: Feb 8, 2021

The ease of the lockdown restrictions in the UK requires retailers to be ready to do business in the new norm. Consequently, businesses should be reviewing their processes and procedures on how they engage with employees and customers to prevent the likelihood of litigation or confusion caused by a lack of clear policies. Contact a member of our team today to arrange a full audit of your business documentation, including any revisions needed as a result of the Coronavirus lockdown.

1. Minimise supply chain disruption

A large majority of retailers providing essential products and services have remained open, whilst adhering to social distancing restrictions, throughout the entirety of the lockdown in the UK. To avoid supply chain disruption occurring, retailers providing these essential products and services should contact their suppliers and delivery/transportation partners to notify them that your business qualifies as an essential service. Both suppliers and delivery partners are obligated to prioritise their responsibility to essential retailers and should be aware that their services are necessary for you to operate.

2. Prioritise clear communication

At such uncertain times, it’s vital that you communicate with your employees, customers and other stakeholders of your business. Being able to demonstrate that you, the retailer, paid attention, stayed informed, and complied with the appropriate regulations will go a long way towards protecting against liability, should this arise.


Provisions should be made for employees who work for essential service retailers so that they are able to travel to work. Bosses of transportation companies have united in describing running public transport with additional social distancing restrictions as “extraordinarily difficult”. Some have gone so far as to say that trains and buses will only be able to travel at 15% capacity to ensure social distancing is achieved, therefore alternative transportation may need to be considered by essential service retailers. Staggering the start and finish times of shifts may also be necessary to ensure all staff can travel to work safely. Some areas, despite the easing of the lockdown, encourage employers to provide each staff member with a letter explaining that they work for an exempt essential service, permitting them to travel.

Click here to read the guidelines provided by Public Health England and the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy.

Best practice for COVID-19 would be to update internal policies the company has adopted. These should be clearly displayed in internal communication so that employees are aware of the changes and can refer back to the policy if needed. If required, retailers must actively train employees on the steps they should take to minimise the risk of catching an spreading the Coronavirus. Contact a member of our team by clicking here to learn how we can assist you with our COVID-19 resources.


When entering your premises, customers should be reminded of simple preventative measures to minimise the risk of contracting and spreading the Coronavirus. These should include: hand sanitisation, remaining at least two metres apart and only touching items they intend to buy. You may also choose to post signs at entryways, advising customers of the steps your staff are taking to prevent the spread. Some retailers may go as far as to introduce restrictions on how many adults from the same household can shop together to minimise the number of people entering the store.

Regardless of whether you’re interacting with staff, customers or other shareholders, lack of clear communication leads to uncertainty and rumours. In order to maintain a positive reputation, both within the company and with external customers, it’s vital that you do all you can to avoid uncertainty. By reassuring everyone and remaining clear on your policies, staff will feel safer whilst working for you and customers will recognise that you’re a company that is doing all it can to prevent the spread of the virus. Not only that, but clear, concise communication minimises the risk of litigation by ensuring there are no grey areas in policies and procedures.

As a company, the methods of communication are your choice. Many retailers, however, like to use digital newsletters, in-store notifications and media publications to communicate with customers. Internal communication should be much more personal and could include internal newsletters, group meetings (via video conferencing software where possible!) or one to one interactions between management and staff.

3. Identify exposures and risks to your specific business and employees

Although there will be areas that all retailers can change as an industry, some issues may be specific to your business. Issues may depend upon location, type of business lease and local public policy for example. A retailer offering an online shopping option for customers, like Tesco for example, would need to consider the risk to employees tasked with picking and packing the shopping on the shop floor, during opening hours as they are mingling with customers. Aldi, however, wouldn’t need to consider this as they would concentrate on their staff members operating checkouts and restocking the store.

Different local authorities will be providing retailers with guidance as to the exposure risk levels for the purpose of occupational health and additional safety guidelines during the coronavirus outbreak. Further details about the guidelines can be found here.

With the ease of the lockdown retailers will need to consider how they will staff the upsurge of activity, whilst protecting staff from harm. Strains on existing staffing structures may occur when ensuring there is crowd control, limiting the number of customers allowed in the store at any given time.

4. Establish policies and review existing terms of agreement

Establish policies and protocols for employees to ensure they are reporting sickness and isolating if necessary. Whilst some employees may try to keep working, whether to not let you down or through fear of the impact absence has on their employment, you, as their employer should actively direct sick employees to stay at home. Not only do they need time to rest and recuperate, but it’s your responsibility to protect colleagues and customers, who may be vulnerable. Your existing sickness policy is likely to need revisions made to adhere to the isolation instructions from the government.

As the lockdown eases and schools reopen, provisions should also be made for emergency parental leave if a child is taken sick. If the employee needs to take time off to take care of their child(ren), you may wish to review your policy to ensure the parent is able to be paid for the time they need to take off. Although this isn’t compulsory, and you are entitled to require your employee make up the missed time or suffer a deduction in salary (if stated in their employment contract), many parents would respect and value a decision to support them whilst they balance their work and home life under such difficult circumstances. After all, a happy, valued employee will go the extra mile for the business and its customers.

Your terms of agreement with suppliers and end users will also need to be reviewed to ensure there are adequate COVID-19 provisions for changes to how your services will be delivered or any delays due to supply chain issues. Contact a member of our team for a free consultation.

5. Research available government relief options

The government has provided several business relief options to assist retail businesses during this time, to include:

  • Business rate reliefs;

  • Staff furlough schemes;

  • Bounce back loans;

  • Business interruption loan schemes.

Click here to find more information on the government guidance to business rates.

Government Advice 

For specific advice and guidance for retail outlets, the government has issued guidelines to protect staff and customers and manage entry into stores. Further information can be found here.

If you have a retail business in the food sector, specific government guidelines have been developed for food handling, further details of which can be found here.

Food business operators should also continue to follow the Food Standard Agency’s (FSA) guidance on good hygiene practices.