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Can Businesses Refuse Me Service if I’m Not Wearing a Mask?

Photo by Macau Photo Agency on Unsplash.
Photo by Macau Photo Agency on Unsplash.

*POST UPDATED – Thursday, July 23, 2020

As of today (July 20), the City of Burlington has a temporary bylaw making the wearing of masks mandatory in enclosed and public indoor places — whether those places are City-owned or privately-owned. It was unanimously passed by your City Council.

A similar bylaw was also unanimously passed by Halton Regional Council and that will go into effect for the entire Region Wednesday (July 22).

Frequently-asked-questions related to the City’s bylaw can be found online at The Region has a similar FAQ page for residents available here: Halton Region Masks FAQ_General Public_July 19.

Residents have been reaching out to me and my office asking if businesses can refuse them service if they are not wearing a mask, even if they have met one of the exemptions laid out by the City’s and Region’s bylaws.

Local businesses are required under the bylaw to have a mask policy and to comply with the bylaw subject to exemptions. They may choose to limit entry to those who cannot wear a mask in order to keep their employees and other customers safe.

As a privately-owned entity, a business can implement additional unique rules for their customers while in their establishment. This is not unlike how businesses can and have historically created other mandates for their customers as they deem essential to the safe and effective management of their businesses. Mandates such as: denying entry to those not in compliance, such as a “no shoes, no shirt, no service” dress code policy; limitations on how many customers can be in their stores at any given time; or asking spa patrons to shower before entering a pool.

The exemptions in the bylaw mean that if you’re let in by a business and not wearing a mask in a shared indoor space, you won’t be fined for not wearing one because you fall under that exemption.

It DOES NOT mean you are guaranteed entry to a business who does not feel comfortable that they can maintain the health and safety of other customers and employees sufficiently in other ways. Some may be able to do so if they have additional plexiglass separators, or limit how many customers are in the store and can maintain significant social distancing, but not all stores can make that happen.

We recommend in these unique situations that businesses and customers work together in a collaborative manner to look for ways to accommodate exempt individuals such as by enabling phone or internet orders with curbside pickup or home delivery, as many businesses have been doing since back in March.

Calling ahead is a great idea for those who cannot wear masks to find out what options may be available.

We hope that all our local business owners will find ways to be flexible for those that have legitimate exceptions to the bylaw and find ways to accommodate people with valid exceptions when possible. I have seen several businesses already providing alternative options for individuals unable to wear a mask in their stores, such as curbside pick-up, online/telephone ordering and having an employee come outside to hand them their order/purchase.

There is a very informative CBC article that was recently published online that shared information and answered questions on the wearing of masks and businesses. I highly encourage residents to take a read of it through this link:

Further support for private local businesses can also be found at and a previous post on my website, including how to create their own policies and supporting posters and communication material.

I once again implore every everyone to treat each other with kindness and compassion, be flexible and understanding, and not shame or stigmatize those who have legitimate reasons for being unable to wear masks. Please be patient with and respectful of the staff of the businesses you visit — they are looking out for the safety of their employees and for you.

— Mayor Marianne Meed Ward


PLEASE NOTE: To stay updated on what the City of Burlington is doing regarding COVID-19, please visit the dedicated pages (and subscribe) and, and our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page — that are updated as new information becomes available.

A Burlington COVID-19 Task Force has been created to help support our community through this unprecedented emergency — updates will be provided at

To report an incident of non-compliance with provincial emergency orders, please contact the Halton Regional Police Service COVID-19 Hotline: 905-825-4722.

We’ve also created a dedicated page to feature the local organizations and businesses that have inspired us during the COVID-19 pandemic by taking action to support our community in new and creative ways — head to


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Marianne Meed Ward

Marianne Meed Ward

A Better Burlington began in 2006 after my neighbours said they felt left out of city decisions, learning about them only after they’d been made. As journalist for 22 years, I thought “I can do something about that” and a website and newsletter were born. They’ve taken various forms and names over the years, but the intent remains: To let you know what’s happening at City Hall before decisions are made, so you can influence outcomes for A Better Burlington. The best decisions are made when elected representatives tap the wisdom of our community members, and welcome many different perspectives.This site allows residents to comment and debate with each other; our Commenting Guidelines established in 2016 aim to keep debate respectful. Got an idea or comment you want to share privately? Please, get in touch:

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