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​Mask-wearing and human rights in Alberta

Key information

  • Generally, requirements related to health and safety and COVID-19, such as the requirement to wear a mask, are not prohibited by the Alberta Human Rights Act.
  • Simply posting a notice that masks are required is also not contrary to the Act.
  • Being refused services because you choose not to wear a mask is generally not contrary to the Act.
  • Depending on the circumstances, an employer, service provider, or landlord may have the duty to accommodate a person with a physical or mental disability or another relevant protected ground, such as religious belief, that supports a reasonable basis for not wearing a mask.
  • When accommodating a relevant protected ground, consideration will be given balancing accommodation obligations to people who cannot wear a mask, with obligations to protect the health and safety of co-workers and other service recipients.
  • The Commission cannot address claims of rights violations under the Charter or other legislation or codes, or on the basis of personal opinion or political beliefs, or any other basis not covered under the Alberta Human Rights Act.
Duty to accommodate
People with certain disabilities may have difficulty wearing a mask if, for example, they have certain mental illnesses such as anxiety disorders, facial trauma or recent oral maxillofacial surgery, allergic reactions to mask components, or clinically significant acute respiratory distress. Masks are a barrier to people with hearing disabilities who rely on lip reading or facial expressions to communicate. Masks may not be suitable for children and adults with certain physical, intellectual, mental, or cognitive disabilities, such as autism or anxiety.
An inability to wear a mask because of a disability (or other protected ground covered under the Act) should not lead to automatic negative consequences, such as harassment, employee discipline or termination, complete denial of service, or eviction from housing. The employer, service provider, or landlord has a duty to accommodate. For example, stores can provide curbside pickup for customers unable to wear a mask because of a disability. Similarly, employers have an obligation to accommodate employees who cannot wear masks, to the point of undue hardship. However, employers and service providers have to balance accommodation obligations with their other legal (health and safety) obligations to other employees and customers.
Human rights complaints about mask-wearing
The Commission may accept a complaint when someone cannot wear a mask due to a physical and/or mental disability (or other relevant protected ground), and they are not accommodated by either a service provider or their employer. The person who wishes to make a complaint on the ground of disability will need to provide the Commission with medical information from their doctor or a nurse practitioner to confirm they have a disability that prevents them from ​wearing a mask.
The person making a complaint should also be able to show a reasonable attempt to receive accommodation, recognizing that accommodations are not required to be perfect or ideal. For example, did they ask if they could receive a service in some other way, such as curbside pick-up? Did they request accommodation of their employer and discuss options for accommodation?
The party that the complaint is against (the Respondent) will have an opportunity to provide a response​ to an accepted complaint. This includes information about what accommodations were offered and available. The Respondent will have an opportunity to provide ​any relevant information to expla​in why the masks were reasonably necessary and why they could not accommodate someone who cannot wear a mask, including why it would be an undue hardship to do so. It is important to note that hardships such as concerns about safety must be real and tangib​le, not just perceived.
The Commission may accept a complaint based on an assertion that wearing a mask interferes with a religious belief. However, someone making a complaint on that ground will need to demonstrate that not wearing a mask is a sincerely held belief related to their religion. Again, that person should be able to show a reasonable attempt to receive​ accommodation, recognizing that not all resolutions will be perfect.
Tribunal ​Decisions about mask-wearing and services
The Tribunal has made a number of decisions about wearing masks. You will find those decisions on the Canadian Legal Information Institute website.

Disclaimer: This informati​on does not constitute legal advice. It is provided only for information purposes, and does not suggest what, if any, decision might be made by a Human Rights Tribunal in any specific complaint

Revised: December 15​​, 2022

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