The COVID-19 infection numbers in Ontario are currently the highest they’ve ever been, and hospitals are beginning to become overwhelmed with patients. Daily infection numbers in Toronto alone currently hover between 700 to 1,000 new infections per day. Recognizing that the city is in a dire situation, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health released a Letter of Instruction to all Toronto employers who are allowed to open under the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act. The letter, dated January 4, 2021, outlines that all employers situated in Toronto have to take additional measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 at the workplace.

Notification Requirements

The letter outlines that more action is needed in order to curb the spread and transmission of COVID-19. Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health requires that all people who are responsible for a business or organization in the city of Toronto implement a series of measures. These measures include:

  • If two people or more test positive for COVID-19 within a 14-day interval in connection with a workplace in Toronto, the employer must do the following:
    • Notify Toronto Public Health at 416-338-7600 as soon as they become aware that two people or more test positive for COVID-19 within a 14-day interval in connection with the workplace;
    • Provide contact information for a designated contact person at the workplace and ensure that this person is readily available to communicate with Toronto Public Health and implement any additional measures immediately as required by Toronto Public Health;
    • Ensure that accurate and updated contact information for all workers is available to be provided to Toronto Public Health within 24 hours of request in support of case management and contact tracing requirements for COVID-19;
    • Cooperate with infection prevention and control personnel from Toronto Public Health, which includes giving entry into the workplace premise for inspection and to support enhanced infection prevention and control measures and recommendations.

It is also required that businesses ensure that the Ontario Ministry of Labour, Training, and Skills Development and other relevant government authorities have been notified in accordance with the Occupational Health and Safety Act and other applicable laws.

Infection Prevention Measures

Notifying Toronto Public Health about infections is not enough, however. Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health also requires that employers follow these infection prevention measures:

  • Rigorous and frequent environmental cleaning has to be implemented;
  • Hand sanitizer and handwashing facilities have to be provided in work and rest areas;
  • Employers have to conduct regular reviews of the ventilation, heating and air conditioning (HVAC) system with the owner of the building/landlord;
  • Physical distancing of at least two meters must be implemented at all times throughout the workplace;
  • Physical barriers, such as plexiglass dividers, must be implemented at the workplace.
  • For employees required to drive as part of their job, instances of more than one person in a vehicle must be minimized.

Lastly, employers are required to inform their employees of income replacement and workplace-related benefits they are entitled to if they are required to isolate due to COVID-19.

Further Province-Wide Restrictions In Effect as of January 14, 2021

Due to the rising number of infections, the Ontario government has declared a second provincial emergency under s. 7.0.1 (1) of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act and introduced enhanced enforcement measures to reduce mobility, for at least 28 days. For businesses in Toronto, and all of Ontario, this announcement has several implications.

Firstly, all employees who can perform their duties remotely are required to work from home. This will reduce person-to-person contact by limiting the number of people in the workplace to just those who are required to be there in person in order to carry out their job functions.

Secondly, businesses will have to ensure that employees who must be on the premises, and anyone who is permitted to enter the establishment, wear masks at all times. Lastly, “non-essential retail stores” are only permitted to open between the hours of 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. These restrictions affect alcohol retailers, hardware stores, big box stores selling non-essential items, and stores that offer delivery or curbside pickup. These new restricted hours do not affect pharmacies, convenience stores, gas stations, dedicated grocery stores, and restaurants open for delivery or takeout.

If the COVID-19 numbers keep rising, it is possible that Ontario will face further restrictions in the immediate future. That likely means that Ontario employers will be further affected by whatever new restrictions the local, provincial, or federal governments might pass. It is important to stay apprised to changes that affect or restrict mobility for Ontario employers and employees.

For advice on employer liability 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.