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FACE MASKS: EXEMPTION


ARE YOU GUILTY OF DISCRIMINATION FOR REFUSING PASSENGERS WHO CLAIM FACE MASK EXEMPTION


Article by: Steven Toy, NPHTA Board member and Trade Leader of the Cannock Chase HC PH Liaison Group


Taxi and private hire drivers are not required to wear face coverings by law as transport providers. However, our passen- gers are and can be fined upwards of £200 if they fail to do so - unless they declare themselves to be exempt, of course.


In order to do so they do not need a medical certificate as proof and as service providers we could be guilty of harass- ment if we so much as dare to ask for proof or enquire as to the reason for exemption. In essence, this means that every single one of our passengers is potentially exempt should they choose to declare themselves so.


A couple of months ago I picked up two young gentlemen from outside a hotel and I overheard one of them say to the other that he had forgotten his mask. The second gentleman, who was wearing a mask, said he would take care of it. He opened the door and told me that his friend was exempt. Who was I to argue?


I’m aware that there is quite a range of opinions and responses to the Covid-19 crisis within our trade. There are varying degrees of caution from those who think the Covid- 19 pandemic is some huge conspiracy or the risks are mas- sively overblown; those who are concerned and would rather not risk catching and transmitting the virus but for the fact that they feel resigned to the need to put food on the table before all other considerations; those of us are rather fright- ened of catching it and passing it on to our loved ones. Some of us have also unfortunately succumbed to this dreadful disease or know colleagues, family and friends who have.


RISK MANAGEMENT


We may try to mitigate the risks as much as possible by: • installing partition screens • sanitising all cash received • sanitising surfaces touched by our passengers • cleaning the inside of the vehicle regularly • encouraging contactless payments • allowing as much ventilation in the vehicle as possible • wearing masks ourselves and requiring our passengers to do slikewise Indeed, my own local authority actively encourages us to refuse to take passengers without face coverings - unless exempt of course!


10


With newer, more transmissible strains of the virus emerging, what legal rights do we licensed drivers have to protect our- selves and our loved ones in the face of ever greater risks?


Partition screens reduce the risk of transmission but they don’t completely eliminate it. If a passenger sitting the other side of the partition screen in my vehicle is wearing perfume or aftershave I can still smell it, even with the ventilation is on a high setting, air recirculation mode turned off and both front windows open. The air bypasses the screen and swirls freely under the seats in the same way that the Nazis in the Second World War, in order to invade France, evaded the Maginot Line and went through Belgium instead. We know that the smallest virus-bearing droplets are airborne.


Face coverings are therefore clearly still needed in addition to screens to provide maximum protection for driver and passengers alike. However, we are not allowed to refuse peo- ple who claim exemption from wearing them, are we?


Covid-19 does not discriminate and I have been mulling over this notion for the last few weeks. I decided to peruse relevant legislation for myself. After all, the devil is always in the detail...


EQUALITY ACT 2010


Looking through the Equality Act 2010 there are three sections relevant to our trade and the question of disability:- Section 13: Direct discrimination (1) A person (A) discriminates against another (B) if, because of a protected characteristic, A treats B less favourably than A treats or would treat others.


Person A is you, the driver. Person B is the passenger with a disability (one of the protected characteristics).


Section 15:


Discrimination arising from disability (1) A person (A) discriminates against a disabled person (B) if -


(a) A treats B unfavourably because of something arising in consequence of B’s disability, and


(b) A cannot show that the treatment is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.


(2) Subsection (1) does not apply if A shows that A did not know, and could not reasonably have been expected to know, that B had the disability.


FEBRUARY 2021


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