As Premier Ford forewarned, his government has issued a new state of emergency order along with a plethora of new restrictions designed to stop the spread of COVID-19. These measures come in light of rising case numbers and deaths along with modelling that forecasts 6000 cases per day and a health care system “on the brink of collapse.”
Below we have set out some highlights of the announcement. As has been the case since last March, it is critical that employers and employees understand their rights and obligations despite frequently changing laws, guidelines and circumstances.
The new state of emergency came into effect immediately.
Impact on the Workplace
- All non-essential retail stores, including those offering curbside pickup or delivery, must be closed between 8pm and 7am.
- Stores that primarily sell food, pharmacies, gas stations, convenience stores and restaurants open for takeout or delivery are exempt from this restriction.
- Non-essential construction is restricted, though the details are unclear.
- The Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development is launching the “Stay Safe All Day” campaign including:
- a workplace inspection blitz with a focus on “areas of high transmission, including break rooms, and
- provision of new educational materials to employers to promote safe behaviour before, during and after work.
- Anyone responsible for a business or organization that is open shall ensure that any person who performs work for the business or organization does so remotely except where the nature of their work requires them to be on-site at the workplace.
- The province will provide up to 300,000 rapid COVID-19 tests per week to key sectors such as manufacturing, warehousing, supply chain and food processing, as well as additional tests for schools and long-term care homes.
According to the government press release,
Evidence gathered from COVID-19 related workplace inspections to date shows the vast majority of employers and workers are following COVID-19 safety requirements when working. However, when in a break room, a vehicle or not on the clock, there is a tendency to forget about the importance of wearing masks, maintaining physical distance and hand hygiene.
As part of the “Stay Safe All Day” campaign, inspectors will use a data-driven approach to focus on workplaces with reported COVID-19 outbreaks, manufacturing businesses, warehouses, distribution centres, food processing operations, construction projects and publicly accessible workplaces deemed essential, such as grocery stores. The Ministry is also using a new data-sharing program, in conjunction with the Ministry of Long-Term Care and the Retirement Regulatory Authority, to focus onsite inspections of long-term-care homes and retirement homes.
Gatherings and Other Restrictions
- The province is now recommending that residents wear masks outdoors when they can’t maintain two metres of physical distance.
- The government is issuing a stay-at-home order requiring everyone to remain at home with exceptions for essential purposes, such as
- going to the grocery store or pharmacy,
- accessing health care services,
- exercise or
- essential work.
- Outdoor public gatherings and social gatherings of more than five people will be prohibited. Previously, up to ten people were allowed to gather outdoors.
Schools and Child Care
- Schools in Toronto, Peel Region, York Region, Hamilton and Windsor-Essex will not return to in-person instruction until at least Feb. 10.
- Students in grades 1-3 will now be required to wear masks, and all students must wear masks outdoors when physical distancing cannot be maintained.
- The province is also expanding screening protocols and targeted testing at schools.
- Child care centres for non-school aged children will remain open except for school-aged children in areas where in-person learning is on hold (though it will still be available for the children of essential workers).
New Enforcement Measures
The question that we are often asked is how these restrictions will be enforced. The announcement indicated that the province will provide authority to all enforcement and provincial offences officers, including the Ontario Provincial Police, local police forces, bylaw officers, and provincial workplace inspectors to issue tickets to
- individuals who do not comply with the stay-at-home-order,
- those not wearing a mask or face covering indoors, and
- retail operators and companies who do not enforce the restrictions.
They can be subject to both fines and/or prosecution under the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act.
Enforcement personnel will also have the authority to temporarily close a business or organization that is in contravention of an order, and will be able to disperse people who are gathering in excess of the new guidelines.
As is often the case, the announcement does not provide all of the relevant details regarding implementation. We provide more information as it becomes available.
We continue to work with employers and employees as we all navigate these uncharted waters. Before you make any decision or take any action that could impact your workplace rights, please contact us so we can provide you with the advice you need.