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Frequently Asked Legal Questions

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8200 views   |   17   |   Last updated on Sep 09, 2020    COVID-19 Masks

Effective July 3rd, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued a statewide mandate that individuals wear a face covering while in most public places. However, Executive Order GA-29 [PDF] makes a number of exemptions, including:

this face-covering requirement does not apply to the following: [...]

2) any person with a medical condition or disability that prevents wearing a face covering

Your city or county may have also issued an order regarding face masks. Typically, these local orders will also include an exemption for those with relevant disabilities. You should check your local orders for details.

Please see the Mask Laws page of our COVID-19 & Texas Law research guide for more information on GA-29 and other mask requirement laws.

If you want to know whether you should avoid wearing a mask due to your disability or medical condition, you should consult with your doctor. People with certain disabilities may be entitled to reasonable accommodations to face mask policies under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other disability laws. It is important to note that disability laws like the ADA only ensure accommodations for those with disabilities. If you have questions about the ADA, you can contact the toll-free ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301 (voice) or 800-514-0383 (TTY).

According to the Center for Disease Control, the following people should not wear a face covering:

  • Children younger than 2 years old.
  • Anyone who has trouble breathing.
  • Anyone who is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the cloth face covering without assistance.

The CDC also recognizes that for some people, wearing a face covering may not be feasible. For others, there may need to be adaptations made to allow them to wear a mask. This could include:

  • Some people who are deaf or hard of hearing (or those who care for or interact with them).
  • Some people with intellectual or developmental disabilities, mental health conditions, or sensory sensitivities.
  • People who work in places where there is a risk of a heat-related illness or where the wearing of a mask causes safety concerns.

The Southeast ADA Center provides additional examples of disabilities that may prevent a person from wearing a mask feasibly or safely. The examples they provide include:

  • People with respiratory illnesses.
  • People with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), severe anxiety, or claustrophobia that is triggered by wearing a mask.
  • Some people with autism.
  • Some people with cerebral palsy or other mobility disorders that might limit the person’s ability to remove their mask without assistance.
  • People who use mouth control devices to operate a wheelchair or other assistive devices.

Businesses and government agencies must consider making “reasonable modifications” to face mask policies for those who have a disability. According to the Southeast ADA Center's fact sheet on the ADA and face mask policies:

A reasonable modification means changing policies, practices, and procedures, if needed, to provide goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations to an individual with a disability.

The article includes several examples of “reasonable modifications” to a face mask policy such as allowing the person to wear a mask alternative, allowing curbside pickup, allowing the person to wait in their car instead of a waiting room, etc.

They also state that a business or government agency does not have to accommodate those with a disability:

  • If the accommodation would require a “fundamental alteration” to the business or service.
  • If the accommodation would pose an “undue burden” on the business or service.
  • If the individual with a disability poses a “direct threat” to the health and safety of others. 

According to the Great Plains ADA Center, businesses may ask customers whether the reason the customer is not able to comply with a mask policy is because of a disability. However, they caution businesses "not to ask questions about the nature or severity of the disability."

The Southeast ADA Center makes this note about businesses asking customers to provide documentation of their disability:

At this time, the U.S. Department of Justice or other federal agencies with enforcement authority have not provided specific guidance about whether a store can or cannot ask for medical documentation about a person’s inability to wear a mask due to a disability. Generally, guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice has not allowed asking for documentation for accommodations at businesses where interactions are brief, such as grocery stores or pharmacies. Some places such as medical offices or hospitals may need the medical documentation because a person who is not wearing a mask may infect other people who are sick.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (see FAQ G.2) an employer can require employees to wear protective gear (such as face coverings or gloves). Employees may make a request for a reasonable accommodation under the ADA or a religious accommodation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (such as a modified mask that can be worn with a religious head covering). Employers should provide the modification or an alternative modification unless it would create an “undue hardship” for the employer.

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