Mask-wearing and human rights in Alberta

Please note, this is the only information the Alberta Human Rights Commission has released about mask-wearing. The Commission has not published or posted any online graphics or posters about mask-wearing.

Key information

  • Generally any requirements related to health and safety and COVID-19, such as wearing a mask, are not prohibited by the Alberta Human Rights Act.
  • Simply posting a notice that masks are required is not contrary to the Act.
  • Being refused service or reasonable accommodation 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 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 to the need to balance accommodation obligations with other legal obligations to co-workers and/or customers.
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 access or use a mask 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, a store could provide curbside pickup for a customer unable to wear a mask because of a disability. Similarly, an employer would have an obligation to accommodate employees to the point of undue hardship. However, consideration will be given to their need to balance the accommodation obligation with their other legal obligation to co-workers and customers.
Human rights complaints about mask-wearing
The Commission may accept a complaint based on an assertion that someone has a disability and was not accommodated. Early in the complaint process, the person making the complaint will most likely need to provide medical information to confirm they have a disability that prevents wearing a mask. They should also be able to show a reasonable attempt to receive accommodation, recognizing that accommodations are not required to be perfect or ideal.
As well, 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. They will also be able to provide information explaining why they could not accommodate service recipients or employees who are unable to wear masks, 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 tangible, not just perceived.
The Commission may accept a complaint based on an assertion that wearing a mask interferes with a religious belief. During the complaint process, someone making a complaint will need to provide information showing 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.
Disclaimer: This information 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
This material was developed based on information from the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
Find more information on COVID-19 measures alberta.ca/coronavirus.
Revised: May 21, 2021

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