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Connecticut Updates Mask and Face Covering Rule Narrowing Medical Exemption

August 18, 2020

On August 14, 2020, Connecticut issued Executive Order 7NNN which updates and supersedes Executive Order 7BB by requiring medical documentation in order for an individual to claim an exemption from the requirement to wear a mask or face covering in public places, businesses and other workplaces.

The basic mask rule remains unchanged. Any individual in a public place, who for any reason, is within six feet of someone else, must cover their mouth and nose. This specifically includes public transit and ride-sharing, taxis or livery services as well.  While the previous rule required those “unable to” maintain a safe distance to wear a mask, that language was removed, presumably for the sake of clarity.

The new list of exemptions includes only children under the age of 2 years (or those in child-care settings) and individuals unable to wear a mask or face covering due to a medical condition with documentation.  

This exemption changes the mask rule in two key respects. First, it eliminates the exemption for an “older child” if a parent is unable to place the mask safely on the child.  Second, medical documentation is now required for exemption. Such documentation need not name or describe the qualifying condition, but it must be in writing and issued by a licensed medical provider, the Department of Developmental Services or another state agency providing or supporting services for people with disabilities.  Presumably, the documentation must be carried at all times in public places.

The new rule also requires the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) to issue updated sector rules to reflect this change, which were also issued over the weekend.  Sector rules have been updated for essential employers and other businesses to state that employees can be required to provide medical documentation if requesting an exemption.  In addition, the guidance also specifies that businesses have a right to refuse service to an individual who is not wearing a mask.  Similar rule changes are in effect for offices. While the State Department of Education has not issued additional guidance specific to schools as employers, Executive Order 7NNN is consistent with the medical exemption contained in previously released guidance requiring all students and staff to wear masks inside school buildings.

The new Executive Order now more closely tracks the language of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  Under the ADA, an employer can ask for documentation of a disability to address requests for accommodation.  Moreover, employers are permitted to ask for medical documentation to support a request for exemption from legitimately implemented safety rules.  Notably, the U.S. Department of Justice recently weighed in on this issue stating that no blanket exemption to mask requirements is granted by the ADA to individuals with disabilities.

Employers should update policies regarding masks and face coverings to address this new language and provide training to staff on how to request and address medically-based mask exemptions. We will continue to address related guidance across sectors as it emerges.  Please visit our Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resource Center and ctschoollaw.com for updates concerning COVID-19. If you have specific questions about this guidance, please contact any member of our Employment or School Law Groups. 

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