In a recent complaint screening decision, the BC Human Rights Tribunal declined to proceed with a complaint made by a customer who was refused entry to a grocery store when she would not put on a mask.
The Tribunal noted it was publishing its decision out of “considerable public interest and concern”, in light of the “large volume of complaints alleging discrimination” since October 2020, related to the requirement to wear face coverings indoors.
A security guard stopped the customer when she attempted to enter the store face covering-free, on the basis of the store’s mandatory policy. The customer claims she told the guard that she was exempt from mask-wearing because masks “cause health issues”. But she refused to divulge what those health issues were, saying only that masks “cause breathing difficulties”.
The customer complained to the Tribunal that the store discriminated against her on the basis of disability.
In response to a request by the Tribunal about the nature of the customer’s alleged disabilities and how they related to her inability to wear a mask, the customer referred to masks causing breathing difficulties and anxiety. She would not provide further details, on the basis of privacy concerns.
The Tribunal said that wasn’t good enough. To be successful in a claim of discrimination based on a mask-wearing requirement, complainants must prove they have a disability that interferes with mask-wearing. Simply stating it to be the case is insufficient.
Where the interactions between a customer and retailer are brief, BC’s Office of the Human Rights Commissioner recommends retailers not require customers provide medical information regarding the ability to wear a mask. However, a complaint to the Tribunal will require evidence.
How much medical information a customer must provide a retailer to establish a mask-wearing exemption is yet to be determined. But retailers can take some comfort in the Tribunal’s decision that not every health-related objection to masks is going to win the day when it comes to human rights.