1. When am I able to re-open my business?
The Province of Ontario presented a multi-phase plan to re-open the economy titled "A Framework for Reopening our Province". The Province will follow a gradual approach to allow health officials to assess the conditions before moving on to the next phase. The City of Toronto provided a guide for Employers, Workplaces and Businesses on procedures to protect employees and customers.
As of May 16, 2020, the following businesses are allowed to re-open:
- Golf courses, with clubhouses open only for washrooms and restaurants open only for take-out
- Marinas, boat clubs and public boat launches for recreational use
- Private parks and campgrounds to enable preparation for the season and to allow access for trailers and recreational vehicles whose owners have a full season contract
- Businesses that board animals, such as stables, may allow boarders to visit, care for or ride their animal
As of May 19, 2020, the following businesses may re-open:
- Retail services that have separate street-front entrances with measures in places, such as limiting the number of customers in the store and booking appointments beforehand
- Seasonal businesses and recreational activities for individual or single competitors such as tennis, track and field and horse racing
- Animal services, specifically pet care services, such as grooming and training, and regular veterinary appointments
- Indoor and outdoor household services that can follow public health guidelines, such as housekeepers, cooks, cleaning and maintenance
- Lifting essential workplace limits on construction
- Certain health and medical services such as in-person counselling; in-person services, in addition to virtual services, delivered by health professionals; and scheduled surgeries
For businesses offering curbside pickup, Workplace Safety and Prevention Services produced a guide on health and safety for curbside pickup and delivery.
2. What do I do if my employee cannot return to work because they are responsible for childcare while their children are at home from school or daycare?
Under section 50.1 of the Ontario Employment Standards Act, the employee may be able to take unpaid Emergency Leave if they must perform childcare duties due to the closure of daycares and schools. The employee is required to advise their employer that they will be doing so and if they already started their leave, to notify their employer as soon as possible.
Under subsection (4.1) an employer is allowed to ask for evidence that is reasonable in the circumstances, however, they may not require the employee to provide a certificate from a qualified health practitioner as evidence. Finally, the entitlement to leave generally ends once the state of emergency is terminated.
3. Am I required to provide personal protective equipment to my employees?
The Public Health Agency of Canada provided a guide for employers on preventing COVID-19 in the workplace. Employers should provide the necessary facilities and cleaning products to maintain a safe and clean work environment. This includes providing employees with personal protective equipment recommended by occupational health and safety guidelines.
1. Can I refuse to work because I am worried about infection from riding public transit?
If you have a general fear of contagion and there has not been an order from the Medical Officer of Health, failing to attend work could be considered a "willful neglect of duty" and could lead to termination. However, if you are in a high-risk group, for example, you are over the age of 60, immunocompromised and/or suffer from another underlying health condition, you may have grounds under the Ontario Human Rights Code to discuss with your employer to ask for temporary accommodation. You may also be entitled to an accommodation if you live with someone who is considered high risk.
2. For how long can my employer temporarily lay me off?
According to section 56(2) of the Employment Standards Act, a temporary layoff is:
"(a) a lay-off of not more than 13 weeks in any period of 20 consecutive weeks;
(b) a lay-off of more than 13 weeks in any period of 20 consecutive weeks, if the lay-off is less than 35 weeks in any period of 52 consecutive weeks and,
(i) the employee continues to receive substantial payments from the employer,
(ii) the employer continues to make payments for the benefit of the employee under a legitimate retirement or pension plan or a legitimate group or employee insurance plan,
(iii) the employee receives supplementary unemployment benefits,
(iv) the employee is employed elsewhere during the lay-off and would be entitled to receive supplementary unemployment benefits if that were not so,
(v) the employer recalls the employee within the time approved by the Director, or
(vi) in the case of an employee who is not represented by a trade union, the employer recalls the employee within the time set out in an agreement between the employer and the employee [.]"
In other words, a temporary lay-off can become a wrongful dismissal if it extends longer than 13 weeks in a period of 20 consecutive weeks without any other payments or benefits. Or after 35 weeks in a 52 week period if the employee receives payments or benefits from the employer or the government.
However, the employer does not have a common law right to temporarily lay off an employee. In other words, the employer may not be able to temporarily lay off an employee at all, unless there is a contractual provision which permits the layoff. In the absence of a contractual provision, the layoff may constitute a constructive dismissal.
3. My job has changed significantly, including duties and pay - is there anything I can do?
Typically, unilateral changes by the employer without the employee's consent can amount to constructive dismissal. However, if the changes are made in order to abide by COVID-19 health recommendations or requirements, for example modifying an employee's hours as part of an employer's plan to stagger shifts to reduce the number of employees in the office to ensure that physical distancing is possible, such changes may not constitute constructive dismissal. The courts have not yet explicitly addressed these issues, however, the extraordinary circumstances of a public health crisis will be relevant to determine whether the changes were reasonable.
Originally published 01 June 20
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.