Is it Legal for a Business to Refuse Service for Not Wearing a Face Mask?

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the globe, the entire world went on lockdown. Some countries opened up before others, but governments worldwide were grappling with attempting to control the virus. As countries and businesses began opening up again, the use of face masks started becoming controversial. Now that we are in the second year since the pandemic began, and recommendations issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) have changed over time, the question remains: Is it legal for businesses to refuse a patron service for not wearing a mask?

Businesses Can Require Masks

In short, the answer is yes.

There is no law anywhere in the country that prevents business owners from setting the terms regarding what patrons must wear when they are in their establishment. That being said, unless a business explicitly states or posts that customers must wear a mask, you are not required to wear one. Notwithstanding a business’s rules, many government officials do recommend mask use in areas where social distancing is difficult or not possible.

Right to Refuse

Notably, a business cannot legally force a customer to wear a face mask. On the other hand, however, there is no blanket constitutional right or other legal right to enter into an establishment without a mask, even if the patron has an underlying medical condition. Notably, the law does balance the individual rights of disabled customers with the health and safety of others. The purpose of this balance is to provide services to this class of people without posing a threat to the general public. 

Federal Law

As a result, there are limited rights regarding the use of masks, which is granted by the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the state’s equivalent of this law. The ADA states, in pertinent part, that:

“No individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who…operates a place of public accommodation.”

In other words, if a patron cannot wear a mask due to medical reasons he or she may claim “disability” and an establishment cannot discriminate against them on this basis.

But the ADA also states, in pertinent part, that:

“Nothing…shall require an entity to permit an individual to participate in or benefit from the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages and accommodations of such an entity where such an individual poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others.”

In other words, a disabled customer’s right to not wear a mask does not trump the right of the business to require a mask or refuse service.

Finally, under the law the establishment cannot just flat-out refuse service. Instead, the business must attempt to still provide the person its services in a different way that is safe.

It seems like the signs outside of businesses may now read like so: 

No shirt, no shoes, no mask – no service.

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