Wearing Non-medical Masks

Jul 28, 2020

The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission would like to reiterate the public health guidelines around non-medical masks including restriction updates. As stated by public health guidelines, when worn properly non-medical masks can reduce the risk of transmitting COVID-19. As of July 31, it is a public health requirement to wear a non-medical mask in most indoor public places. Guidelines for wearing non-medical masks may change as public health continues to monitor the local spread of COVID-19. It is recommended to check the links above regularly for updates.

Most requirements related to health and safety and COVID-19, such as wearing a mask, or following specific health and safety procedures to perform work or service delivery, are generally not a complaint under the Act. However, service providers and employers should also recognize that health and safety requirements may have a negative impact on vulnerable populations.

There may be individuals that are unable to wear a mask due to medical reasons associated with a disability or for other reasons related to another protected characteristic, such as children under the age of 2. The Commission encourages businesses to treat individuals who are unable to wear a mask, due to legitimate health or other protected grounds, with respect. Businesses are urged to seek alternative ways to offer their services. Masks are a barrier to communication for people with hearing disabilities that rely on lip reading or facial expressions. People with certain disabilities may have difficulty wearing a mask if, for example, they have severe allergies, experience asthma attacks, or have other respiratory issues. Masks may not be suitable for children and adults with certain physical, intellectual or cognitive disabilities such as autism.

Guidelines for Individuals:

  • Understand public health directives and how this may impact you and your surroundings including the impact on dependents and various public and private environments.
  • If you have medical concerns with the public health directives, speak with your medical professional about your concerns and follow their advice. Your medical professional can determine what is medically required for you based on your specific condition. They will be able to determine your specific needs and what limitations may be applicable. This will allow you to better navigate social interactions in public environments.
  • Be proactive and seek alternatives to how services can be delivered if you are medically or on the basis of another protected characteristic, unable to wear a mask. This could be a phone call to the store/employer in advance so that the accommodation process can be initiated. If an organization is enforcing the use of masks, the service / work environment may look different and should be reasonably applied for those that require an accommodation.

Guidelines for Organizations:

  • Organizations should make clear the reasons why a mask or other equipment or procedure is needed in the circumstances.
  • Organizations should recognize that health and safety requirements, including masks, could have a negative impact on vulnerable populations identified by a protected ground under the Act, who may not have access to such equipment. Some may not be able to use the equipment or follow a procedure because of their disability or for another protected grounds.
  • It would be beneficial for organizations and employees/clients to have a conversation prior to entry into the business and ask individuals to wear a mask. If the individual identifies that they have a disability or identify another protected ground, and that they are unable to wear a mask, there may be the duty to accommodate. The employer/service provider should work with the individual to come up with an accommodation to provide the service but in an altered way that respects their rights and the public health directives.
  • It is recommended that organizations have other options available to accommodate those who cannot wear a mask. From an employers’ perspective examples of this could be: alternative workspace, work from home, or alternate hours. From a service providers’ perspective, this could be: offer designated hours, online or telephone shopping, or curbside pick-up.
  • In addition, workers have rights and employers have obligations for workers’ health and safety under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission encourages all individuals and organizations to work together to gain a better understanding of how best to work together during this difficult time. Everyone involved should be flexible and explore whether an individual accommodation is possible, including alternative ways a person might safely continue to work or receive a service.