On January 12, 2021 Ontario declared a second provincial emergency to address rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in Ontario. This declaration was accompanied by a “Stay-at-Home Order” and a recommendation that business allow employees to work from home where such an arrangement is possible. While restrictions were placed on “non-essential” businesses even prior to the Stay-at-Home Order, other business such as grocery stores, hardware stores, pharmacies and certain big-box stores were permitted to remain open.
Ontario’s subsequent “big-box store blitz” in Toronto, Hamilton, Peel, York and Durham found 76 businesses that were violating safety measures required by the Ontario government. Under the Reopening Ontario Act and the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, corporations failing to comply with safety measures could be fined up to $1,000 and individual employees and customers could be fined up to $750. For more serious violations, courts can impose fines of up to $100,000 for individuals, imprisonment for up to 1 year, and up to $500,000 for corporations.
Given the seriousness of the situation, the Ontario government has announced on January 20, 2021 that enforcement will be stepped up by expanding the blitz campaign to include small retail establishments, restaurants providing take-out, gas stations, essential service-sector establishments, farming operations, and other essential services. More than 300 officers have been directed to perform on-site visits to determine whether business are complying with the safety requirements.
The first campaign of 2021 will be held in Hastings and Prince Edward Counties. The Ontario government is planning additional blitz campaigns in Durham, Niagara, Halton, Huron, Perth, Peterborough, Toronto, and Leeds Grenville Lanark in the weeks that follow. Per the Ontario government media release, the most common violations were employees not wearing masks, not having a safety plan, and not screening people in the workplace.
Employers should ensure that they are following all requirements set out by the Ontario government including:
- Requiring employees to always wear masks properly while working, especially if working indoors.
- Screening individuals present in the workplace for signs of COVID-19 such as cough, fever, or other symptoms.
- Ensuring that your workplace has a COVID-19 Safety Plan in place.
- Posting signage in the workplace about COVID-19 rules and recommendations.
- Properly cleaning and disinfecting all areas of the workplace.
Employees are also subject to fines under the legislation and should ensure they are following all safety precautions such as always wearing masks properly over nose and mouth, regularly washing their hands, keeping a distance wherever possible from others and self-isolating if showing symptoms or receiving a positive COVID-19 test.