In the last few weeks and months, the COVID-19 infection rate in Ontario have kept rising. As a result, the provincial government has found it necessary to impose another lockdown on Ontarians. However, that is not the only measure that has been taken. The municipal governments, too, have found it necessary to take measures to reduce the number of COVID-19 cases. More specifically, the municipalities of Peel and Toronto have decided to use section 22 of the Health Protection and Promotion Act (HPPA) of Ontario.

What is section 22 of the Health Protection and Promotion Act?

A section 22 HPPA order can apply to any place in which people can gather in Ontario. It gives the provincial medical officer of health the authority to take action, such as closing a business, in order to stop the spread of a communicable disease, such as the COVID-19 virus.

More specifically, the section states:

“22 (1) A medical officer of health, in the circumstances mentioned in subsection (2), by a written order may require a person to take or to refrain from taking any action that is specified in the order in respect of a communicable disease…”

The circumstances mentioned under the section are described as “Condition precedent to order”, which means these conditions have to exist before the medical officer can act. As such, subsection 2 states:

“A medical officer of health may make an order under this section where he or she is of the opinion, upon reasonable and probable grounds

(a) that a communicable disease exists or may exist or that there is an immediate risk of an outbreak of a communicable disease in the health unit served by the medical officer of health;

(b)  that the communicable disease presents a risk to the health of persons in the health unit served by the medical officer of health; and

(c)  that the requirements specified in the order are necessary in order to decrease or eliminate the risk to health presented by the communicable disease.”

How Are Municipalities Using this Section of the HPPA to Close Workplaces?

Both municipal governments are concerned about the spread of COVID-19 at workplaces in Toronto and Peel. Both governments see the section 22 order as a necessary tool to stop transmissions at the workplace. According to the Peel Region section 22 order:

  • The closure will happen with 5 cases that are identified to have been reasonably acquired in the workplace over a 14-day span;
  • For larger businesses, modified closure criteria apply. This is based on a risk assessment which will determine if full or partial closure is warranted. Closure may last 10 calendar days, with day one starting the day after the business is notified they must close. This will allow Peel Public Health to investigate the outbreaks without the risk of spread of infection and provide additional recommendations to workplaces;
  • Workers who are affected by the virus must self-isolate unless otherwise directed by public health. Employees who are isolating are not permitted to work in any other workplace. This further restricts spread should they have been exposed in their workplace;
  • Absent legislated paid sick days, employers required to close under these provisions are strongly recommended to provide paid leave for impacted employees; and
  • These closures will allow Peel Public Health to investigate without risk of continuing spread, protecting employees and the community.

For the City of Toronto Section 22 order, the criteria is quite similar.

So far, the Ontario health unit has already partially closed two Amazon fulfillment centres in Brampton. Last week, the public health unit identified eleven workplaces total for “priority review”. The two Amazon fulfillment centres were part of those eleven workplaces. Mississauga and Brampton have also seen the partial closing of five additional workplaces since the closing of the Amazon fulfillment centres.

Paid Sick Leave Announced for Workers in Ontario

The government of Ontario has very recently announced its paid sick leave program. The government calls this program the Ontario COVID-19 Worker Income Protection Program. The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board will administer this new program. Ontario employees impacted by the COVID-19 virus will be able to access three paid sick days. The provincial government will reimburse workers 200 percent of their wages for up to $200 per day.

Although COVID-19 cases have started to drop a new variant of the virus has recently entered Ontario. It remains to be seen if current lockdown measures will be effective in continuing to reduce the number of COVID-19 cases. It also remains unknown what further measures the government will take regarding workplaces.

For advice on employee rights, 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.