COVID-19 and Ontario’s Human Rights Code – Questions and Answers

http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/news_centre/covid-19-and-ontario%E2%80%99s-human-rights-code-%E2%80%93-questions-and-answers

  1. Can an employer, service provider or landlord require me to wear a mask because of COVID-19?
  • Ontario recommends, but does not currently require, that people use a face covering (non-medical mask such as a cloth mask) to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 when physical distancing and keeping two-metres apart from others may be challenging or not possible, such as on public transit, in smaller grocery stores, pharmacies or when receiving essential services.
  • The OHRC’s policy position is that any requirements related to health and safety and COVID-19, such as wearing a mask, using other protective equipment or following a procedure to perform work safely, or to protect people receiving services or living in housing, do not generally cause concern under the Code.
  • At the same time, employers, housing and other service providers should recognize that health and safety requirements such as masks may have a negative impact on vulnerable populations identified by a ground under the Code who may not have access to such equipment. Other people may not be able to use the equipment or follow a procedure because of their disability or for another Code-related reason.
  • 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 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 or cognitive disabilities such as autism.
  • The Ministry of Health advises that face coverings should not be placed on or used by children under the age of two, anyone who has trouble breathing, or anyone who is unable to remove it without assistance.
  • Organizations have a duty under the Code to accommodate these types of individual needs related to legitimate COVID-19 requirements, unless it would amount to undue hardship based on cost or health and safety. For example, it may be necessary to provide free masks or other means so that people with disabilities can safely perform work, receive services or live in congregate housing. For example, offering curbside pickup would generally allow a person to receive a retail service even if, because of their disability, they are unable to wear the required mask to enter a store.
  • An inability to access or use a mask or other equipment, or to follow a health and safety procedure, must not lead to automatic negative consequences such as employee discipline or termination, complete denial of service or eviction from housing.
  • No one should experience harassment or other discriminatory treatment based on a Code ground because they are unable to wear a mask, or choose to wear, or not wear, a mask, or require someone else to wear a mask based on advice from public health officials.
  • Everyone involved should be flexible and explore whether individual accommodation is possible, including alternative ways a person might safely continue to work, receive a service or live in congregate housing.
  • Organizations should make clear the reasons why a mask or other equipment or procedure is needed in the circumstances.
  • In addition, workers have rights and employers have obligations for workers’ health and safety under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Visit the Ontario Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development website for more information, including how to contact the Ministry.