Likely in response to increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases in various parts of Ontario, the provincial government has announced that a series of COVID-19 workplace education and enforcement campaigns, developed in consultation with local health units, will be launched. These inspection blitzes will be targeted to “strategic locations,” with the aim of ensuring Ontario businesses are adhering to COVID-19 public health measures.
The campaigns are intended to support the recently introduced COVID-19 Response Framework: Keeping Ontario Safe and Open (“Response Framework”) and ensure compliance with the public health requirements set out under the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, 2020 (“Reopening Ontario Act”). The campaigns will be carried out by provincial offences officers from various ministries, and may last for a period of a few days up to several weeks. As part of the campaigns, business owners will be provided with guidance regarding how to operate safely and in compliance with legislative requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic. Campaigns are currently taking place in the Waterloo Region, with campaigns planned to take place for seven additional communities, including Eastern Ontario, York Region, Ottawa, and Toronto.
When inspected, employers of certain businesses will be asked to produce their COVID-19 safety plans, as required under Ontario Regulation 263/20: Rules for Areas in Stage 2 (“O. Reg. 263/20”) and Ontario Regulation 364/20: Rules for Areas in Stage 3 (“O. Reg. 364/20”). At this time, the following businesses located in regions classified as “Yellow-Protect”, “Orange-Restrict”, “Red-Control”, and “Lockdown” are required to develop a safety plan: meeting and event spaces; restaurants, bars, and food or drink establishments; personal care services; shopping malls; sports and recreational facilities; performing arts facilities; cinemas; and casinos, bingo halls, and other gaming establishments.
Safety plans must include the measures and procedures which have been implemented, or will be implemented (should certain circumstances arise), in the workplace to reduce the transmission of COVID-19. Specifically, plans must describe how the requirements under the regulations will be implemented in the workplace including through screening, physical distancing, masks or face coverings, cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces and objects, and the wearing of personal equipment. The safety plan must also be in writing and made available to any person for review upon request, and posted in a conspicuous place in the workplace.
Though the announcement of the campaigns indicates that officers will generally engage in an educational approach involving “compliance assistance”, there was also a statement from the Premier that “intentional” non-compliance by “bad actors” will lead to significant fines. Specifically, non-compliance with orders under the Reopening Ontario Act may result in a person or business being ticketed with a fine of $750. However, where a prosecution is started by Information rather than by a ticket, individuals may be fined up to $100,000 on conviction, directors and officers of a corporation may be fined up to $500,000 on conviction, and a corporation convicted of an offence under the Reopening Ontario Act may be fined up to a maximum of $10,000,000.
In light of these campaigns, employers should ensure that COVID-19 control measures, required to comply with the Reopening Ontario Act, are being carried out along with any additional measures applicable to their business based on their public health unit’s classification. Further, employers in businesses that require a safety plan should ensure a proper one is developed, implemented, and available upon request.
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.