In News

On June 24, 2021, the Ontario government announced that the province will be moving in to Step 2 of its 3-step reopening framework as of 12:01 AM on June 30, 2021.

As with Step 1, the new Step 2 rules were established under the newly amended O. Reg. 488/21: Rules for Areas in Stage 2 (the “Regulation”).

The transition into Step 2 will allow for the reopening of certain businesses that were required to remain closed in Step 1, while also introducing some loosened restrictions for certain sectors.

Businesses and Organization That Can and Cannot Open During Step 2

In our previous blog, we provided a non-exhaustive list of businesses that were permitted to reopen to the public in Step 1. Under Step 2, more businesses will be permitted to reopen, including, but not limited to:

  • all stores inside of shopping malls, with the exception of interior dining spaces and food courts;
  • public libraries;
  • outdoor amusement and water parks; and
  • personal care services, including but not limited to:
    • hair salons and barbershops;
    • spas;
    • tattoo studios; and
    • nail salons.

General Rules During Step 2

Several of the general rules applicable to all Ontario employers in Step 1 will continue to apply during Step 2, with certain limited exceptions. We have set out a non-exhaustive list of general rules that will continue to apply below.

Work from Home Whenever Possible

During Step 2, most employers must continue to ensure that all workers perform their duties remotely unless the nature of their work requires them to work on-site at the workplace. 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. As a result, most employees who can work from home must work from home.

Physical Distancing

Subject to capacity limits outlined within the Regulation, businesses that are open to the public during Step 2 must limit the number of members of the public in the place of business to whatever limit is necessary to allow said members of the public to maintain a physical distance of at least two meters from every other person in the business or facility.

Safety Plan Requirements

Businesses reopening in Stage 2 will be required to 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. Businesses that opened in Step 1 are required to continue adhering to their existing safety plans.

Such safety plans must include how the employer will meet the requirements in the Regulation regarding:

  • screening;
  • physical distancing;
  • masking;
  • cleaning and disinfecting; and
  • use of other PPE.

Safety plans for certain businesses and events that are reopening in Step 2 are subject to additional requirements, including that they must include information as to how the business, place or event will:

  • prevent gatherings and crowds in the business or place or at the event;
  • ensure all public health measures are complied with, including physical distancing and the wearing of masks; and
  • mitigate the risks of any interactive activities, exhibits, or games that may be included in the business or place at the event.

Businesses that must adhere to these enhanced safety plan requirements include, but are not limited to:

  • outdoor amusement and waterparks;
  • outdoor horse racing tracks, car racing tracks, and other similar venues;
  • outdoor museums, galleries, aquariums, zoos, and other similar attractions; and
  • outdoor concert venues, theaters, and cinemas.

New and Loosened Sector-Specific Rules During Step 2

In addition to the general rules set out above, the Regulation also contains sector-specific rules and requirements that will apply to certain businesses and organizations permitted to reopen under Step 2. Several businesses that were permitted to open in Step 1 will be subject to newly loosened sector-specific rules and requirements. The examples set out below are not exhaustive of the sectors to which sector-specific rules apply.


Under Step 2, the sector-specific rules that will apply to retailers include, but are not limited to:

  • essential retailers, such as grocery stores, pharmacies, and safety supply stores can now operate at 50% capacity, up from a limit of 25% under Step 1; and
  • non-essential retailers can now operate at 25% capacity, up from a limit of 15% under Step 1.


Under Step 2, the sector-specific rules that apply to restaurants, bars, and food trucks include, but are not limited to:

  • no indoor dining or buffet-style service may be provided;
  • patrons must remain seated at their tables at all times, subject to limited exceptions;
  • 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 six patrons from different households may be seated at the same table, up from a limit of four under Step 1.

Personal Care Services

Under Step 2, hair salons, nail salons, and other businesses offering personal care services will be newly permitted to reopen. The sector-specific rules that apply to personal care services businesses include, but are not limited to:

  • no personal care services that require the removal of a mask or face covering can be provided;
  • persons providing personal care services must wear appropriate personal protective equipment;
  • no member of the public may enter the premises except by appointment;
  • the total number of patrons permitted indoors must be limited to the number that can maintain a physical distance of at least two meters from every other person in the establishment, and cannot exceed 25% capacity; and
  • a sign stating the maximum capacity of the premises must be posted in a conspicuous location that is visible to the public.


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.

Employers permitted to reopen under Step 2 should always be mindful that public health measures, such as physical distancing and the wearing of masks indoors, must be followed by both patrons and employees. An employer’s obligation to ensure public health measures are being complied with extends not only to the business premises itself, but also to patrons who line up outside of the premises.

Given that COVID-19 related measures and requirements are subject to constant change, employers should continually monitor for changes to the applicable requirements and public health guidance. Given that Ontario has already hit the vaccination targets required for entry into Step 3, employers should keep in mind that further changes will likely be implemented in the coming weeks.

This blog is provided as an information service and summary of workplace legal issues.

This information is not intended as legal advice.