Face Coverings and Masks By-Law

Wearing a mask or face covering will be required in enclosed public spaces under City of Hamilton By-Law 20-155 (PDF, 118 KB) and City of Hamilton By-law 20-202 (PDF, 8 KB). The mask or face covering should cover your nose, mouth and chin, without gapping. Wearing a mask or face covering is an additional measure we can take to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 and keep each other safe. This means that, with some exceptions, all persons, including customers and/or visitors entering an enclosed premise are required to wear a mask or face covering while in the enclosed space.

Hamilton Public Health Services continues to recommend public health management measures be practiced by all residents in order to reduce the transmission of COVID-19. These measures include washing hands with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds, staying home if sick, keeping a physical distance of at least 2 metres from others and wearing a mask or face covering indoors, especially in settings where it is difficult to maintain a physical distance from others.

Wearing a mask is not an alternative to physical distancing. Every effort should be made to keep a 2-metre distance even when wearing a mask.

Please note that the City of Hamilton will not enforce an individual business’ mandatory mask policy or corporate policy, only specifics addressed in the By-law.

Infographic on how masks work

Face coverings and masks

Wearing a face covering or mask when you are sick protects people who are around you. Since some people who are infected with COVID-19 may have the virus and not know it, whenever people are going out and might come into close contact with other people, they should wear a face covering or mask. When other people wear a face covering or mask, they are helping to protect you as well.

Learn more about face coverings and masks

“Face Covering” means a medical or non-medical mask or other face covering such as a balaclava, bandana, scarf, cloth, or other similar item that covers the nose, mouth, and chin without gapping.

“Establishment” means any municipal bus or transit shelter and any enclosed place where members of the public are ordinarily invited or permitted access, either expressly or by implication, and whether or not a fee is charged for entry.

Businesses and establishments affected include:

  • premises or any portion thereof which are used as a place of business for the sale or offering for sale of goods or services and includes a mall or similar structure which contains multiple places of business.
  • churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, or other places of worship
  • community centres including indoor recreational facilities
  • libraries, art galleries, museums, aquariums, zoos, and other similar facilities
  • facilities operated by community service agencies which are attended by members of the public
  • banquet halls, convention centres, arenas, stadiums, and other indoor event spaces
  • premises utilized as an open house, presentation centre, or other facility for real estate purposes
  • common areas of hotels, motels, apartment buildings, condominiums, townhome complexes and other multi-unit buildings (including those that permit short term rentals), such as lobbies, elevators, meeting rooms, or other common use facilities
  • concert venues, theatres, cinemas, casinos, and other entertainment facilities
  • homeless shelters
  • municipal public transportation facilities including, for clarity, all vehicles owned or operated by Hamilton Street Railway and DARTS Transit
  • municipal facilities, such as City Hall and Municipal Service Centres
  • airports or other facilities under the jurisdiction of the federal government
  • provincial public transportation facilities
  • schools or post-secondary institutions
  • child care facilities
  • portions of an establishment that are not open to members of the public, such as an event that is private and by invitation only. Examples include weddings, funerals, christenings, bar or bat mitzvah.
  • hospitals, independent health facilities, or offices of regulated health professionals
  • any portion of a property used primarily as a private dwelling
  • A child under the age of two
  • A child at least 2 years in age but under the age of 5 years who refuses to wear a face covering and cannot be persuaded to do so by their caregiver
  • A person who has an underlying medical condition which inhibits their ability to wear a face covering
  • A person who is unable to place or remove a face covering without assistance
  • A person who is an employee or agent of the operator and is within an area designated for them and not for public access, or is within or behind a physical barrier
  • A person who is reasonably accommodated by not wearing a face covering in accordance with the Human Rights Code including a person with a disability that makes it difficult to wear or communicate while wearing a face covering
  • A person who is in a swimming pool 
  • A person who is actively engaged in an athletic or fitness activity
  • A person who is attending a summer or day camp that is in an area not open to members of the public
  • A person who removes the mask for the period necessary to receive services or treatment, including eating or drinking.
  • A person who is sleeping or in bed at a homeless shelter
  • A person who states that one of the foregoing exemptions of this by-law applies to them
  • A person who is engaged in a public speaking event or conducting a ceremony can choose to not wear a mask if standing in an area of the space that is separate from the public attending the event. It is recommended that the person use a microphone to project their voice to reduce the risk of respiratory droplets being spread and not participate in any singing or chanting.  The person public speaking or conducting a ceremony should stand at least 2 metres from the people in attendance and if there is more than one public speaker, they should be spaced at least 2 metres apart from each other and not be facing each other.

It’s vital that no member of the public be denied entry or stigmatized if they are unable to wear a mask or face covering due to a listed exemption, we ask for patience and kindness as everyone adjusts and navigates through these uncertain times.

Every operator of an enclosed public space (establishment) must take reasonable steps to comply with the By-law this includes posting visible signage at all entrances to their establishment and ensuring that anyone entering or remaining in their establishment wears a face covering that covers their noise, mouth and chin.

Every person entering an establishment must actively comply with the By-law and signage posted requiring them to wear a face covering unless exempt and ensure any child of at least 2 years of age under their care wears a face covering unless they indicate the child is exempt.

The By-law will be enforced with the primary objective of achieving voluntary compliance

A fine may be issued under this By-law. Every person who contravenes this bylaw may be issued a penalty notice under the Administrative Penalty System (APS), the maximum fine is $500. A repeat offender could be issued a Part 3 charge under the Provincial Offences Act (POA) for a contravention of this By-law.

Face shields are meant to be used for barrier protection for the facial area and would not be considered a substitute for wearing a face mask or face covering. Face shields do not provide any filtering against respiratory droplets.  A face shield may protect the wearer against droplets expelled from another person, however, some of these droplets may still be inhaled around the shield.

Respiratory droplets expelled by the wearer may escape around the sides of the face shield, which therefore provides sub optimal protection to others.

If you choose to wear a face shield, it is recommended - if possible - to wear it in addition to a properly fitted cloth masks.

Clear plastic mouth shields are not a suitable face covering since they do not tight fitting around the mouth, nose and chin. Mouth shields allow infectious respiratory droplets to spread outside the mask, and do not help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Face shields and mouth shields do not comply with the City of Hamilton Face Covering By-law. As a better than nothing approach, the WHO recommends that if face shields are to be used, the wearer should ensure proper design that covers the sides of the face and extend below the chin. For certain populations, those with mental health disorders, developmental disabilities, deaf and hard of hearing community and children, the WHO supports the use of face shields.

Masks with an exhalation valve are not recommended because they may filter dust particles in the air as the person inhales, but they may not filter virus particles or respiratory droplets. This means droplets from a person can be spread in a room, reducing the benefit of the mask.

Respirators with exhaust valves are also not recommended. These are intended to make the respirator more comfortable for the person who is wearing it, but they can also allow respiratory droplets to spread in room. 

Information for business owners and operators

  • Every operator shall ensure that a clearly visible sign is posted at all entrances to their establishment that contains wording outlined in the By-law.
  • Every operator shall take reasonable steps to ensure that no member of the public is permitted entry to, or otherwise remains within, the establishment unless the member of the public is wearing a face covering in a manner which covers their mouth, nose, and chin. This requirement shall not apply to members of the public that state that they fall within an exemption of this By-law or appear to fall within one of the exemptions.
  • Every operator shall ensure that any person who refuses to comply with the requirements of this By-law is promptly asked to leave their establishment and is reported to authorized staff upon failure to comply with this direction.
  • Every operator shall ensure that a person responsible for ensuring compliance with this By-law is present at the establishment at all times when it is open to the public.
  • Every operator shall ensure that all persons working at the establishment are aware of the requirements of this by-law.
  • Every operator shall ensure that its employees and every person working within the establishment wears a face covering while working in any part of the establishment that is open to members of the public.
  • For the purposes of this By-law, no operator shall require any employee or member of the public to provide proof of exemption.  A self-declaration of exemption is acceptable and sufficient.
  • Masks and/or face coverings will not be provided to businesses and establishments by the City of Hamilton. Businesses and establishments will not be required to provide masks and/or face coverings to individuals.

A mask or face covering is required when entering the premise, and for the duration of their time inside. The mask or face covering must be worn in any enclosed area that is openly accessible to the public, and for the purpose of offering goods and services.

Examples of establishments Where a mask or face covering is required Where a mask or face covering is not required
Retail stores
  • Retail floor/aisles
  • Cashier area/queues
  • Service desks/counters
  • Publicly accessible washrooms
  • Line-ups to enter store
  • Staff lounge while eating or drinking
  • Stock/storage room
  • Workshop/service area
  • Private office
  • Shipping/receiving area
  • Outdoor patios
  • Display areas that is part of the retail space (e.g. outdoor garden centre)
  • Line-ups to enter store
  • Indoor takeout counters
  • Indoor dining area (when permitted to open)
  • ​Indoor food preparation areas that is open to the public
  • Outdoor drive-thru windows
  • Outdoor dining area
  • Kitchen that is physically separated from the dining area and not accessible to the public
  • Staff lounge/private office
  • Shipping/receiving area not open to the public
  • Indoor areas open to the public
  • Outdoor areas open to the public
  • Administrative offices, service areas or other areas not open to the public
Farmers’ market
  • Indoor areas open to the public
  • Outdoor areas
  • Areas not open to the public

Not everyone is able to wear a face covering or mask. Please be respectful of people who are unable to wear one due to health, age or other reasons.

Consider offering or accessing alternative services (e.g. online, telephone, curbside pickup) or offer off-peak hour service.

If an employee works behind plexiglass, do they still need to wear a face mask?
If an employee works behind plexiglass in an area designated for employees only, without public access (e.g. behind a check-out counter), they do not need to wear a face mask. However, please note that if they leave their station and are in an indoor enclosed space where there is potential of interacting with the public, a face mask is required.

If an employee works in an employee-only area, do they still need to wear a face mask?
The mandatory face covering by-law does not apply to portions of an establishment that are not open to members of the public (such as an employee-only area). Please note, masks continue to be highly recommended for all indoor circumstances where physical distancing is a challenge.

If people can physically distance within the organization do they need to wear masks (for example in places of worship)?
If the establishment is included under the new by-law, it is expected the mandatory by-law be enforced regardless of whether or not physical distancing can take place (i.e. masks would be required unless under the by-law).  

Can establishments determine their own mandatory face covering policies outside of the by-law?
Establishments can determine their own policies in addition to the by-law if they so choose. Since there are people who cannot use face coverings, appropriate and reasonable exemptions should be provided by the business. Please note, the City of Hamilton will not enforce an individual business' mandatory mask policy or corporate policy, only specifics addressed in the by-law.

If employees work in a space where public are not typically invited (e.g. lawyer's office) are face coverings required?
While employees are in a staff-only space and are able to maintain a physical distance from co-workers, masks are not required. However, when public are invited into these spaces to receive a service (e.g. appointment with lawyer face masks are required to be worn by both service provider and client.

Are face coverings required in gyms or exercising in an enclosed public space?
When participating in indoor physical activity/exercise, face coverings should be used by patrons and staff, as frequently as can be tolerated. If an activity or exertion level does not allow for a face covering temporarily, the face covering should be put on again when the strenuous activity is complete (for example when stretching and travelling through shared space). Face coverings must be worn in common spaces when not exercising in common spaces (e.g. when entering and leaving the facility locker rooms, washrooms)

Both patrons and staff should wash their hands using soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer before and after removing a face covering. Physical distancing must continue to take place in shared indoor spaces such as gyms, and frequent hand washing should be encouraged.

Do food service workers need to wear face coverings?
There are currently no confirmed cases of COVID-19 being spread through food. The primary way this virus is thought to spread is person-to-person through respiratory droplets when someone coughs, sneezes, or talks.

Food service workers may be required to wear a mask if they are not able to maintain physical distancing from others in their workplace, based on the requirements under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. The concern about COVID-19 spread occurs when there is close and extended person-to-person contact. This is why masks are recommended when spending longer amounts of time in close contact with others. Many cooks work in very hot environments so the mask can pose health and safety concerns for them in these conditions.

Gloves are not recommended for general practice. Regular hand washing is very effective. Gloves can also carry germs and people are less likely to wash hands appropriately (e.g., before putting gloves on and after taking them off, and throughout the day as needed) due to a false sense of security. If workers have a cut or infection on their hand, a bandage should cover it and a glove should be worn over the bandaged hand until the cut or infection heals. Hand washing should be done as usual before putting on and removing the gloves. Gloves should be changed between jobs.

Information for public

  • A person must wear a face covering while in an establishment.
  • A person’s face covering must cover the nose, mouth, and chin without gapping
  • If a person is a parent, guardian, or person accompanying a child to an establishment, they must ensure that any child two years age or older wears a face covering.

Members of the public are permitted to temporarily remove their face covering or mask where necessary for the purpose of:

  • receiving services (including eating or drinking when dine-in services are allowed) or
  • while actively engaging in an athletic or fitness activity including water-based activities.

Ensure you wash your hands using soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer before and after removing your face covering or mask.

Face coverings are required in common areas of apartment buildings, condominiums and townhouse complexes, such as in lobbies, elevators, meeting rooms, laundry room, stairwells, and elevators. Signs should be posted in these common areas to notify residents and visitors.

Under the Reopening Ontario Act, the use of masks or face coverings is mandatory in all public indoor settings across Ontario, such as businesses, facilities, workplaces, and the common areas of apartment buildings, condominiums, and shelters with limited exemptions, including corrections and developmental services. Wearing a mask or face covering is also mandatory in a vehicle that is operated as part of a business or organization. Read more about provincial regulations


Contact us

You can report face coverings not being worn within enclosed public spaces by calling 905-546-2489 or emailing [email protected].