As COVID infection numbers began to rise again last month, and with children now back in school, it was almost inevitable that the government of Ontario was going to release new safety measures. On September 1, 2021, the provincial government declared that in order to access certain businesses and settings, individuals would have to be fully vaccinated and as such, the province will be implementing a passport system for certain non-essential activities beginning on September 22nd.

Why is the Provincial Government Implementing Vaccine Passports for Some Settings?

In order to reduce the risk of transmission in public places, individuals will be required to show proof that they have received a full regime of immunizations, as well as exceeded the 14-day period since their last dose, to enter. The purposes of the policy are threefold:

  • To increase vaccination rates among Ontarians,
  • To reduce the burden on Ontario hospitals, and
  • To provide businesses with additional tools to keep employees and customers safe, while allowing them to remain operational.

What Does This Police Mean For Affected Workplaces?

The businesses and settings that are affected by the Ontario government’s new policy are the following:

  • Restaurants and bars (excluding outdoor patios, as well as delivery and takeout);
  • Nightclubs (including outdoor areas of the establishment);
  • Meeting and event spaces, such as banquet halls and conference/convention centres;
  • Facilities used for sports and fitness activities and personal fitness training, such as gyms, fitness and recreational facilities with the exception of youth recreational sport;
  • Sporting events;
  • Casinos, bingo halls and gaming establishments;
  • Concerts, music festivals, theatres and cinemas;
  • Strip clubs, bathhouses and sex clubs;
  • Racing venues (e.g., horse racing).

Affected businesses and settings are required to comply with this new policy. That means that as of September 22, 2021, they must ask customers to display both photo identification and proof that they have been fully vaccinated. Under the Reopening Ontario Act, enforcement of this vaccine passport policy will be conducted by by-law officers. The Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development inspectors will begin with educating and warning non-compliant businesses before imposing penalties.

Specifics with respect to compliance have not yet been released, but could include temporary closures or fines for business owners.

Establishing Proof of Vaccination

In order to access the above-mentioned businesses and settings, Ontarians must:

  • Be fully vaccinated against COVID-19
    • This means the individual must have received both shots of the COVID-19 vaccine and 14 days must have passed since they received the second dose;
  • Provide proof of vaccination;
  • Must also show photo identification.

Beginning September 22, people will need to provide both photo identification as well as the paper receipt showing they have been fully immunized. The receipt can be downloaded online here or call the Provincial Vaccine Booking Line at 1-833-943-3900.

The government will introduce an enhanced digital vaccine receipt that features a QR code, which will be available by an app expected be released by October 22nd. The app will allow users to download the receipt on their smartphones and will display a code that a business can scan to confirm whether the customer can enter the establishment.

What About Customers Who Have Medical Exemptions?

There are a small number of individuals who are not able to receive the vaccine due to medical reasons. For those individuals, businesses will be able to permit them entry as long as they show a doctor’s note until recognized medical exemptions can be integrated as part of a digital vaccine certificate. Furthermore, as children 11 years of age and younger cannot be vaccinated at this time, they will be able to be exempt from the vaccine passport requirements.

Must Employees of these Affected Businesses be Vaccinated?

This new government policy does not apply to employees in affected businesses or settings.  The government is looking to employers to make their own policies regarding employee vaccination requirements. There are already several Ontario organizations that have made COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for staff to attend work in-person. This includes the educational institutions, airlines, banks, and public health.

Contact Grosman Gale Fletcher Hopkins LLP if You Require More Information About Vaccine Passports and What It Means for Employers and Employees

It is important for affected Ontario businesses, employers, and employees to understand the requirements pertaining to vaccine passports to avoid penalties for non-compliance. As the policy is rolled out, many employers may have questions about their obligations and responsibilities to both employees and customers. Further, employees may have questions about their role in helping their employer enforce these policies that employers can help to address by creating comprehensive policies in advance of the new system.

For advice on vaccine passports, COVID-19 workplace policies, employer liability, employee rights and other employment or labour law matters, contact the offices of Toronto employment lawyers Grosman Gale Fletcher Hopkins LLP. We regularly advise workplace parties on a wide range of legal workplace issues. Contact us online or by phone at 416-364-9599 to schedule a consultation.