Know Your Rights-Face Coverings during COVID-19

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Know Your Rights-Face Coverings during COVID-19

July 23, 2020

Many people with disabilities are at a much higher risk of developing life-threatening complications if they get COVID. When public health officials recommended or require people to wear a mask, everyone who can wear a mask should wear a mask. 

Some people cannot wear face masks because of their disability.  This publication will tell you about your right to an accommodation or modification to face mask policies. An “accommodation or modification” means a change or adjustment to a policy that allows you to participate in an activity or service.

What are my rights to not wear a face mask?

You have the right to a reasonable accommodation or modification to a face mask requirement in a public place or a business if you can’t wear a mask due to your disability or medical condition.  You can ask for a reasonable accommodation or modification to a face mask requirement if you need one.

Every situation is different. There is no one accommodation or modification that will work for every person in every place. There are fake cards that say that a person with a disability automatically does not have to wear a face mask. Those cards are not true.  Whether or not you can go somewhere without wearing a face mask will depend on the circumstances.

I can’t wear a mask.  Does that mean I can go places without one?

No. Even if you cannot wear a mask, it does not mean that it is safe for you and others to go places without a mask. Each place will need to review if it is safe for the other people and employees to allow you to enter without wearing a mask.  If it is not safe, they may need to offer you a different accommodation or modification. For example, a manager of a grocery store may find that it is not safe for their staff or other customers to allow you to enter without wearing a mask. If they do not allow you to enter without a mask, they will likely need to provide you with an accommodation. For example, they might provide curbside pickup or shopping at different hours.

How do I get an accommodation or modification to a face mask requirement?

You can ask to be exempt from a face mask requirement as a reasonable accommodation.  The decision maker will need to see if it is safe for you and other people if you enter the space without wearing a mask. If it is not safe, they will need to think about whether your needs can be met another way. For example, curbside pickup, visiting at a different time or making an appointment and calling when you arrive.

You can also ask for a modification to a face mask requirement if your disability prevents you from wearing a face mask, but  you can wear a different type of face covering. You may be able to wear a face shield or loose scarf covering over your nose and mouth.

Do I have to give proof of my disability?

You may be asked for proof of your disability. What and how much documentation you may be required to provide will depend on the situation.

  1. In places that you are visiting once or quickly (like a store or a restaurant), you may be asked a few basic questions.  For example, “Do you have a disability or a medical condition that prevents you from wearing the mask?”  You do not need to give a lot information about your disability to a private business or person unless you want to.   
    You should be ready to explain that you have a disability and that your disability prevents you from wearing a mask.  You may find it helpful to have some information that you are comfortable sharing.  For example, you could bring a note from a health care professional that says that you have a disability or medical condition that prevents you from wearing a mask, but does not go into any more detail.
  2. If you are going somewhere often or longer-term (like a school or a place you go to regularly), the owner or administrator may ask you for more information.  This could include a letter from a professional.
  3. If there is a mask policy at work, you can ask for a reasonable accommodation.  We recommend that you make your request in writing.  You must go through the interactive process with your employer, The “interactive process” means you and your employer need to work together to determine what accommodations will allow you to do your job safely and effectively.  For example:
    • Working different hours
    • Doing different job tasks
    • Working from home or in a space away from co-workers and the public

    If your employer cannot accommodate you, you may be able to get paid or unpaid leave. Some types of leave will allow you to keep your job even if you cannot work for a period of time. 

    To learn more about COVID-19 reasonable accommodations in the workplace see: https://www.disabilityrightsca.org/post/coronavirus-reasonable-accommodations