On June 8, 2020, the Ontario government announced a regional approach that will see more workers returning to work, as well as the opening of additional recreational activities. Current restrictions are being eased in Ontario communities where it is deemed safe to do so based on public health information.
Effective Friday, June 12, 2020 at 12:01 a.m., the limit on social gatherings will increase from five to 10 people in all communities across the province. Places of worship will be permitted to open, provided physical distancing measures are implemented and attendance is limited to no more than 30 percent of the building's capacity.
The following business are allowed to reopen, provided proper health and safety measures are implemented:
- Outdoor dine-in services at restaurants, bars and other establishments, including patios, curbside, parking lots and adjacent properties;
- Select personal and personal care services with the proper health and safety measures in place, including tattoo parlours, barber shops, hair salons and beauty salons;
- Shopping malls under existing restrictions, including food services reopening for take-out and outdoor dining only;
- Tour and guide services, such as bike and walking, bus and boat tours, as well as tasting and tours for wineries, breweries and distilleries;
- Water recreational facilities such as outdoor splash pads and wading pools, and all swimming pools;
- Beach access and additional camping at Ontario Parks;
- Camping at private campgrounds;
- Outdoor-only recreational facilities and training for outdoor team sports, with limits to enable physical distancing;
- Drive-in and drive-through venues for theatres, concerts, animal attractions and cultural appreciation, such as art installations;
- Film and television production activities, with limits to enable physical distancing; and
- Weddings and funerals, with limits on social gatherings to 10 people.
The public health units affected by the Stage 2 announcement are:
- Algoma Public Health
- Brant County Health Unit
- Chatham-Kent Public Health
- Eastern Ontario Health Unit
- Grey Bruce Health Unit
- Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit
- Hastings Prince Edward Public Health
- Huron Perth Public Health
- Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington Public Health
- Leeds Grenville & Lanark District Health Unit
- Middlesex-London Health Unit
- North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit
- Northwestern Health Unit
- Ottawa Public Health
- Peterborough Public Health
- Porcupine Health Unit
- Public Health Sudbury & Districts
- Region of Waterloo Public Health and Emergency Services
- Renfrew County and District Health Unit
- Simcoe-Muskoka District Health Unit
- Southwestern Public Health
- Thunder Bay District Health Unit
- Timiskaming Health Unit
- Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health
The remaining regions in the province remain subject to the existing Stage 1 restrictions.
Gowling WLG Focus
The following are key takeaways for employers and businesses seeking to reopen in accordance with the province's most recent directives:
- The province's health and safety enforcement mechanisms have been bolstered to ensure that employers entering Stage 2 are complying with required health and safety protocols;
- Requirements contained within applicable health and safety guidelines are being treated by the Ministry of Labour, and its enforcement divisions, as though they have the force of law;
- As workplaces progress into Stage 2 and beyond, the province will increasingly leverage the Occupational Health and Safety Act ("OHSA") and its regulatory mechanisms to "stop the spread" and contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The OHSA statutorily requires employers to take "every precaution reasonable in the circumstances" to protect workers and others at the workplace, at all times. The Internal Responsibility System ("IRS") created by the OHSA requires employers to proactively comply with applicable health and safety guidelines, on a contextual and holistic basis, even if those guidelines are not explicitly identified within the OHSA. Employers, whether already open or preparing to reopen under Stage 2, need to be proactive. IRS mechanisms need to be in place.
- The province has repeatedly directed employers to applicable general and sector-specific health and safety guidelines published in collaboration with four key Health and Safety Associations: Infrastructure Health and Safety Association , Public Service Health and Safety Association , Workplace Safety North , and Workplace Safety and Prevention Services . Before reopening, employers are thus being "put on notice" of the required health and safety standards they will be required to meet. Ongoing compliance is mandatory.
- The net result is that employers will no longer be able to plead ignorance if they are reviewed, audited or investigated by the Ministry of Labour or its Inspectors for failing to comply with mandatory, COVID-specific health and safety guidelines. As the circumstances warrant, non-compliance is being dealt with on a zero-tolerance basis and will lead to compliance orders, fines, prosecution, stop work orders and recurring audits.
Health and safety compliance in the post-COVID workplace is daunting. However, in our view, recent developments continue to serve as opportunities for employers to promote good corporate citizenship, engage their workforces, and fully participate in the province's broader public health initiatives. The province is relying on employers to remain vigilant and steadfast in order to contain COVID-19 as the various Stages of the Framework progress.
Employers are strongly encouraged to seek specific legal advice with respect to creating a return to work plan in accordance with labour and health and safety requirements. For all questions related to employer-side employment law, including all questions related to employers and Covid-19, the Gowling WLG Employment, Labour & Equalities Group would be pleased to assist. To find out more about our Group and how to contact a specific lawyer, click here.
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.