The pandemic has resulted in a seemingly ever-shifting landscape for Ontario employers to navigate. Recently, our firm wrote about the new minimum wage increases (that took effect on October 1, 2020), the provincial government’s extended freeze on temporary layoff rules and new worker screening requirements (that came into effect on September 26, 2020).
As if that was not enough, there are two further legal changes of which Ontario employers and employees should be aware:
Mandatory indoor face coverings
On October 2, 2020, in response to an increasing number of new COVID-19 cases, the provincial government mandated that masks or face coverings be worn in most indoor settings (including private businesses, facilities and workplaces).
Affected businesses and organizations must now ensure that everyone in an indoor area of their premises, or in a vehicle operated by the business or organization, is wearing a face covering. The face covering should be worn so as to cover the individual’s nose, mouth and chin. Ontario employers are required to ensure their staff are acting in accordance with this new requirement, unless one of a limited number of exceptions apply:
- Individuals with a medical condition that makes it difficult for them to wear a mask or face covering (or who cannot put on or remove the mask or face covering without assistance) are not required to cover their face;
- Individuals who are being accommodated in accordance with either the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act or the Human Rights Code are likewise exempt from the mask requirement; and
- Individuals working in an area that is not accessible to the public, and who are able to maintain a physical distance of at least two metres from other people, are not required to wear a face covering.
Employers should also be aware that the legislative changes making indoor face coverings mandatory do not require that staff provide medical documentation to support an asserted exemption from the rule. This reality should shape the manner in which employers implement these rules in their workplace.
Finally, employers should be aware that individuals may temporarily remove their mask or face covering to eat or drink, or as is necessary for health and safety purposes.
COVID “hotspots” return to “modified” Stage 2
Employers operating in Ottawa, Toronto or Peel Region should be aware of new restrictions announced on October 9, 2020. These three areas of the province are subject to additional restrictions in effect for at least the 28-day period immediately following October 10, 2020.
These restrictions essentially return the three impacted regions to a modified version of the province’s Stage 2 reopening plan and require that a number of businesses temporarily close again. Impacted employers include those operating:
- Restaurants, bars, nightclubs and food courts;
- Indoor gyms, fitness centres, yoga and dance studios;
- Movie theatres;
- Performing arts venues; and
- Personal care service providers where masks must be removed for service (i.e., beard trimming).
The impact of these forced shutdowns may be severe. It remains to be seen how long they may last or whether other parts of the province will be subject to similar shutdowns. As the situation with COVID-19 continues to change, however, we can expect further legislative intervention. Thus, it is critical for employers to remain abreast of these changes and ensure continued compliance moving forward.
- Ontario government: Face coverings and face masks
- Ontario government: Additional public health measures in Toronto, Ottawa and Peel Region
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