The Worker v. The District Managers: Employee Belief That Masks Ineffective Against Spread of COVID-19 Insufficient for Human Rights Complaints


We recently told you here about a screening decision of the BC Human Rights Tribunal not to proceed with a complaint of discrimination by a customer against a store for refusing her entry because she would not put on a mask.  The Tribunal has since released another screening decision, this time in relation to a complaint by an anti-masker employee against an employer.

In The Worker v. The District Managers, the Tribunal declined to accept the employee’s complaint for filing because the employee’s objection to mask-wearing was based on the employee’s opinion that masks do not prevent the transmission of COVID-19—a belief that BC’s Human Rights Code does not protect.

When the employee reported for work, a manager told him he had to wear a mask.  The employee refused to do so, saying it was on the basis of his “religious creed”.  He was sent home and subsequently terminated, following which he complained of discrimination to the Tribunal.

In his complaint, the employee explained his religious belief as follows:

  • “We are all made in the image of God, a big part of our image that we all identify with is our face.  To cover‐up our face arbitrarily dishonors God”;
  • Mask-wearing infringes on his “God given ability to breath”; and
  • “God makes truth of high-importance that [he] must follow ethically and morally”, “forced mask wearing does not help protect anyone from viruses” and, as a result, he “cannot live in that lie”.

The Tribunal found that the employee had not pointed to any facts that would support mask-wearing as being prohibited by any particular religion, or that there was a personal connection between not wearing a mask and a spiritual faith.

The Tribunal noted that it usually issues screening decisions by letter but, due to the “large volume” of complaints about requirements for face coverings in indoor settings, there was a public interest in publishing the decision.

While the Tribunal’s decision does not mean a different set of facts will not give rise to a successful discrimination complaint by an employee in relation to mask-wearing requirements, employers can take some comfort that the Tribunal is scrutinizing complaints by anti-masker employees.

For more legal analysis of how COVID may affect your business, or personal affairs, visit Clark Wilson’s COVID-19 Resource and FAQ pages