On June 7, 2021, the Ontario Government established rules that apply to businesses and organizations during Step 1 of the province’s new 3-step reopening framework (for more information on this framework, please read our previous blog).
These rules, some of which are sector-specific, were established under the newly amended O. Reg. 82/20: Rules for Areas in Shutdown Zone and at Step 1 (the “Regulation”). The Regulation also sets out which types of businesses and organizations are permitted to open to the public during Step 1, which began on June 11, 2021 and will continue for at least 21 days.
Businesses and Organizations That Can and Cannot Open During Step 1
Many types of Ontario businesses and organizations are explicitly permitted to open during Step 1 under the Regulation, subject to certain conditions or requirements. Such businesses and organizations include, but are not limited to:
- supply chain operations;
- essential and non-essential retailers;
- restaurants and bars (for outdoor dining and takeout only);
- shopping malls;
- veterinarians and other pet services, such as groomers;
- construction projects;
- day camps;
- lawn care and landscaping services; and
- publicly-funded agencies that deliver or provide support to government operations and services.
On the other hand, any businesses or organizations that are not explicitly permitted to open to the public during Step 1 under the Regulation must remain closed, such as hair and nail salons.
Similarly, some types of businesses and organizations are permitted to open for very limited purposes and/or subject to onerous conditions, such that they generally cannot operate in the manner that they normally would, such as:
- concert venues, theatres, and cinemas;
- indoor sports and recreational fitness facilities; and
- museums, aquariums, and public libraries.
However, temporary access to businesses and organizations that must remain closed to the public during Step 1 is permitted for certain purposes, including, but not limited to:
- preparing for re-opening;
- allowing for inspections, maintenance, or repairs; and
- accessing materials, goods or supplies that may be necessary for remote operation.
Additionally, such businesses and organizations are still permitted to provide remote services to customers, such as delivery of goods by mail or remote pick-up, or the provision of services that can be administered online or by telephone.
General Rules During Step 1
The Regulation includes many general rules that apply to all Ontario businesses and organizations during Step 1, with certain limited exceptions.
Work from Home Whenever Possible
During Step 1, business and organizations must ensure that all workers perform their duties remotely, unless the nature of their work requires them to work on-site at the workplace. As a result, anyone who can work from home must work from home.
The only employers exempt from this requirement are governmental entities and publicly-funded organizations that support government operations and services, including those in the healthcare sector.
Follow All Public Health Measures
Businesses and organizations that open to the public or otherwise conduct operations during Step 1 must ensure that they continue to comply with all applicable public health measures and guidance from public health officials.
All businesses and organizations must also comply with screening requirements by, among other things:
- posting signs at all entrances to their premises in conspicuous locations which inform people on how to screen themselves for COVID-19 symptoms before entering; and
- actively screening every worker before they enter the premises.
Mask and PPE Requirements
Businesses and organizations must ensure that everyone wears a mask while in indoor areas of their premises, including any vehicles, subject to certain exceptions. These exceptions include, but are not limited to:
- people with medical conditions that inhibit their ability to wear a mask;
- children under the age of two;
- people being accommodated under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005, or who are being reasonably accommodated under the Human Rights Code;
- people who need to temporarily remove their mask to consume food or drink, or to receive services that requires them to remove their mask; and
- workers in areas that are not accessible to the public, where they are able to maintain a physical distance of at least two metres from every other person in the area.
Notably, employers must ensure that any worker who removes their mask temporarily to consume food or drink is separated from every other person by at least two metres or by an impermeable barrier.
Further, where a worker is providing a service and must come within two metres of another person who is not wearing a mask in an indoor area, the worker must wear appropriate eye protection, unless they are separated by an impermeable barrier.
Safety Plans Requirements
Any business or organization that opens during Step 1 must prepare a safety plan that outlines the measures and procedures it has implemented or will implement to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 in its premises.
Such safety plans must include how the employer will meet the requirements in the Regulation regarding:
- physical distancing;
- cleaning and disinfecting; and
- use of other PPE.
Safety plans must be made readily available to workers and customers to review upon request, and a copy must also be posted in a place where it is visible and likely to come to the attention of people in the premises.
Open businesses and organizations must also ensure that amenities such as washrooms or changerooms are cleaned and disinfected as often as needed to ensure they remain in a sanitary condition, among other requirements.
In addition to any sector specific capacity limits that may apply, businesses and organizations that are open to the public during Step 1 must limit the number of people in their premises such that it does not exceed 50% capacity and members of the public are able to maintain a distance of at least two metres from every other person.
Sector-Specific Rules During Step 1
In addition to the general rules set out above, the Regulation also contains sector-specific rules and requirements that apply to certain businesses and organizations. The examples set out below are not exhaustive of the sectors to which sector-specific rules apply.
The sector-specific rules that apply to retailers during Step 1 include, but are not limited to:
- essential retailers, such as grocery stores, pharmacies, and safety supply stores must limit their capacity to no more than 25%;
- non-essential retailers must limit their capacity to no more than 15%; and
- a sign stating the maximum capacity of the premises must be posted in a conspicuous location that is visible to the public.
During Step 1, restaurants, bars, and food trucks in Ontario must comply with sector-specific rules which include, but are not limited to:
- no indoor dining or buffet-style service may be provided;
- outdoor dining areas must be configured so that patrons seated at different tables are separated by:
- a distance of at least two meters; or
- an impermeable barrier;
- the names and contact information of every patron who enters the establishment must be recorded, subject to limited exceptions; and
- no more than four people may be seated at the same table, subject to certain exceptions, such as a table made up of members of the same household.
Childcare providers in Ontario will be permitted to open during Step 1 subject to sector-specific requirements which include, but are not limited to:
- centres must not operate a before or after school program on any school day for a child unless the child’s school is permitted to provide in-person teaching or instruction to the child on that day under the Regulation;
- centres must not provide childcare on school days during typical school hours for a child whose school is not permitted under the Regulation to provide in-person teaching or instruction to the child on that day and who, immediately before April 12, 2021,
- was enrolled in school; and
- was not registered to attend the centre on those days and during those hours.
Notably, there are certain exceptions for childcare centres that are providing emergency childcare.
In addition to other sector-specific requirements, only specific types of stores within shopping malls are permitted to open for in-person shopping. These stores include, but are not limited to:
- any business that has a public entrance that opens onto a street or exterior sidewalk;
- supermarkets, grocery stores, and convenience stores;
- discount and big box retailers that sell groceries; and
- safety supply stores.
Any business within a shopping mall that is not permitted to open for in-person shopping may continue to provide alternative methods of sale to their customers, such as pick-up or delivery.
All Ontario employers should carefully review the Regulation in order to ensure that they comply with all applicable rules and requirements, including any that are specific to the sector in which their business or organization operates.
Given that COVID-19 related measures and requirements are subject to nearly constant change, employers should continually monitor for changes to the applicable requirements and public health guidance.
This blog is provided as an information service and summary of workplace legal issues.
This information is not intended as legal advice.