On June 11, 2022, the Ontario government lifted most of its remaining provincial masking requirements, including in public transit settings. However, masks are still required in long-term care and retirement homes, and are recommended in higher-risk congregate living settings such as shelters and group homes.
Government directives on mask-wearing in health care settings will be replaced with Ministry of Health guidance for health care workers and organizations. This includes guidance on when masks should be worn in hospitals and other health care settings.
Employers can implement their own mask policy
Although the mask mandate has expired in most settings, employers continue to have the ability to implement their own policies regarding PPE in the workplace. Employers should continue to be aware of their duty under the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act, to take every reasonable precaution to protect the health and safety of workers. This includes protecting workers from hazards posed by infectious diseases.
Employers will want to continue to assess their workplace and determine what is needed to protect the health and safety of all workers, and how to minimize the risk of transmission of COVID-19. Employers will also want to consider the needs of workers who are at high risk for severe illness, recovering from COVID-19, have symptoms of the virus or are a close contact of someone with COVID-19.
Although employers are no longer required to implement a COVID-19 workplace safety plan, continuing to implement one demonstrates that an employer is making efforts to keep its workplace safe. Employers can consult the Ontario government’s Guide on developing a COVID-19 workplace safety plan.
Employees who refuse to mask
If an employee refuses to wear a mask or raises any potential human rights issue, employers will want to tread carefully and ask a few more questions.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission’s position is that requiring people to wear a mask for health and safety reasons relating to COVID-19 does not generally cause concern under the Ontario Human Rights Code. However, if an employee raises a disability that creates difficulty or prevents them from wearing a mask, employers need to be mindful of their duty to accommodate up to undue hardship based on cost, health and/or safety.
We’re excited to hopefully be on the other side of a long two years of a pandemic. Although there are still ripple effects being felt all over the place, the lifting of masks in most workplaces remains a symbolic end of an era.