Ontario Enacts Legislation to End Declared Emergency

On July 24, 2020, the Province of Ontario enacted Bill 195: Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, 2020 (the “Act”)Most significantly, this Act terminates Ontario’s Declared Emergency.

Orders previously issued pursuant to the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act will continue to be in place  for a period of 30 days unless renewed.   For instance, it is our interpretation that the suspension of limitation periods in courts and tribunals across Ontario will continue to remain in place for thirty days under the previous order.

There are significant employment law implications that arise on account of this Act.  Unless amended otherwise, employees will no longer be able to take Declared Emergency Leave under the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (“ESA”) as the “declared emergency” has been terminated.

Also, employees who were deemed to be on Infectious Disease Emergency Leave in the ESA would cease to be on such leave in six weeks (on or around September 4, 2020).  Our explanation on how employees on lay off were deemed to be on Infectious Disease Emergency Leave can be found in our earlier In A Flash titled New Ontario Regulation Modifies Treatment of Layoffs Related to COVID-19. The elimination of the deemed Infectious Disease Emergency Leave has significant implications for employers as employers may be required to temporarily lay off employees after September 4, 2020.  In particular, if employers do not have sufficient work to recall employees by September 4, 2020, those employees may be laid off.  The time lines for the transition from temporary lay off to termination would begin to run at that time.

For clarification, this Act does not change an employee’s independent entitlement to Infectious Disease Emergency Leave if they qualify for such leave.  Please refer to our earlier In A Flash titled New Infectious Disease Emergency Leave Comes into Force in Ontario for a discussion on the criteria an employee must meet in order to qualify.

The Act also grants the Provincial Government the power to continue, amend, and extend orders relating to the following subject matters:

  • the closure of businesses, schools, hospitals, and other establishments, both private and public;
  • the provision of rules or practices for workplace management, including with respect to redeployment and staffing; and
  • the prohibition or regulation of gatherings and public events.

Finally,  the Act introduces new enforcement measures making it an offence to interfere with or obstruct any person exercising a power or duty set out in an order previously under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act. If convicted:

  • an individual can face a fine of up to $100,000 and imprisonment of up to 1 year;
  • an individual who is a director or officer of a corporation can face a fine of up to $500,000 and imprisonment of up to 1 year; and
  • a corporation can face a fine of up to $10,000,000.

This Act has created confusion for employers with regards to its application.  If you have any questions about this matter, other COVID-19 related issues, or would like any other workplace law assistance, please contact a Mathews Dinsdale lawyer, or refer to the Firm’s COVID-19 website resources.

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