On July 16, 2021, all regions in Ontario will move to Step 3 of the province's Roadmap to Reopen, and the province will remain at Step 3 for at least 21 days. In this post, we analyze the legal instrument that will bring the Step 3 rules into force on July 16 and the implication of the new rules for Ontario businesses.
Key Legal Instruments
Requirement to Work From Home "Except Where Necessary" is Relaxed
- Unlike the rules for areas in Step 1 and Step 2, which required employers to ensure that workers "work from home except where necessary", the Step 3 rules no longer explicitly mention this requirement. While this likely signals that the requirement has been relaxed, employers should, nevertheless, continue to exercise caution in recalling workers to the physical workplace. The province continues to recommend in its guidance that "[a]ll workers who can work from home should continue to do so." The Step 3 rules also impose a broad duty on businesses to operate "in accordance with all applicable laws, including the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the regulations made under it." Businesses should seek additional guidance before bringing more workers back.
Screening and Signage Obligations Remain
- As was the case in Step 1 and Step 2, employers remain obligated in Step 3 to continue to actively screen "every person who works at the business or organization before they enter the premises of the business or organization." Together with this screening requirement, employers must continue to post signs at all entrances of the premises, in a conspicuous location visible to the public, that inform individuals on how they must screen themselves for COVID-19 before entering the premises.
Face Covering and Physical Distancing Obligations Remain
- While some provinces have relaxed face covering requirements in the workplace, Ontario continues to require in Step 3 that persons in the indoor area of the premises, or in a vehicle that is operating as part of the business, wear a face covering. Some exceptions to this requirement continue to exist, such as for those with a medical condition or when eating indoors.
- Together with the face covering requirement, the Step 3 rules continue to impose various physical distancing requirements. For instance, the rules require that all members of the public in an indoor place of business or facility that is open to the public maintain a physical distance of at least two metres from every other person. At workplaces, workers must be separated by two metres or a physical barrier when their face mask is temporarily removed.
Higher Capacity Limits for Businesses
- The rules in Step 3 increase capacity limits for certain businesses. Essential and non-essential retailers, for example, as well as personal care services and other listed businesses, can increase capacity limits to the number of people that can maintain a physical distance of two metres, subject to specific limitations calculated from a building's occupancy and fire safety limits. Businesses generally have a duty to display occupancy limits to the public and should consult the rules in Step 3 for specific capacity rules that apply to their industry.
Higher Indoor and Outdoor Gathering Limits
- Indoor and outdoor gathering limits are increased in Step 3. Indoor social gatherings and organized public events can host up to 25 people. Outdoor social gatherings and organized public events can host up to 100 people with certain exceptions. Indoor meeting and event spaces are permitted to operate with physical distancing and other restrictions still in effect, with capacities limited at 50 percent or 1,000 people (whichever is less).
Duty to prepare or update a workplace safety plan remains
- As was the case under the rules in Step 1 and Step 2, employers remain obligated to prepare or update their workplace safety plan in accordance with the new rules for Step 3 no later than seven days after the rules take effect or seven days after July 16, 2021.
Duty to Comply with Public Health Orders and Guidance Remains
- Employers must continue to abide by "all applicable laws, including the Occupational Health and Safety Actand the regulations made under it." This means that employers must regularly monitor for new rules and public health guidance, and ensure they are remaining compliant with workplace safety laws.
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