In News

This is the fifteenth and final bulletin in a weekly series that provides a recap of important COVID-19 developments and their impact on employers as they navigate these challenging times. This recap covers the week of June 29, 2020 and is current as of July 6, 2020.

Over the past few weeks, there has been a decrease in the frequency of new government policy developments related to COVID-19, as most of the country continues to reopen and the number of new cases in Ontario and Canada has generally continued to steadily decline. Last week, Prime Minister Trudeau announced that he will no longer be providing regular daily updates on the federal government’s response to the pandemic.

Going forward, in light of this general slowdown of new developments, we will no longer be publishing a Week in Review to cover the previous week’s COVID-19 related developments. Our blogs going forward will continue to address broader legal developments, which are expected to increase as courts begin to reopen and important legal decisions are released more regularly. We will still cover relevant COVID-19-related developments as they arise, as well as issues related to equity, diversity and inclusion which have become particularly important for workplaces in today’s context.

With respect to the update for the week of June 29, 2020, the Ontario government announced that courts will begin to reopen beginning July 6, and Toronto and other municipalities in the Greater Toronto Area have passed bylaws to make masks mandatory in indoor public spaces. The Ontario government also announced that it will be providing free online training on workplace health and safety for workers looking for jobs.

These key developments are set out below.

Ontario Courts Began to Gradually Resume In-Person Proceedings on July 6

On June 30, 2020, the Ontario government announced that Ontario courts will begin gradually reopening for in-person proceedings on July 6, 2020. The gradual resumption of in-person proceedings will begin with the reopening of 149 courtrooms in the Superior and Ontario Courts of Justice in 44 locations across the province, with additional courtrooms to open by September and all remaining ones reopening by November 1, 2020.

The courts will be implementing strict health and safety protocols for their reopening. Every person visiting a courthouse will be screened for COVID-19 symptoms and will be required to wear a face covering, and physical barriers will be installed at public counters and in courtrooms, interview rooms, and intake offices.

With the gradual resumption of regular court activities, the frequency of new legal developments will increase, and it will become easier for employees to pursue litigation against their employers for various claims related to the pandemic, such as constructive dismissal claims by those who were laid off and wrongful dismissal claims for those who were dismissed. In the longer term, the courts will also likely bring clarity to recently enacted COVID-19-related legislation, as they begin interpreting and applying these new laws.

Mandatory Mask Bylaws Passed in Toronto and Other Municipalities in the Greater Toronto Area

A new City of Toronto bylaw making non-medical masks and face coverings mandatory in indoor public spaces will go into effect on July 7, 2020. As discussed in our recent article, the Toronto City Council voted for the temporary bylaw on June 30, 2020.

Under the bylaw, masks will be required inside places such as shops, grocery stores and malls, as well as on public transportation, including ferries to the Toronto Islands. Individuals will be allowed to remove their mask when receiving services, eating a meal, or engaging in fitness or athletic activities.

The bylaw does not apply to apartment buildings and condominiums, childcare centres, or areas that are not enclosed, such as restaurant patios. The decision about whether masks will be required in schools is up to the Ontario government, which has left it up to each individual school board to decide on classroom policies.

Exceptions to the mandatory mask requirement will be made for individuals who cannot wear a mask for medical reasons and for children under two years old. The Toronto bylaw will remain in place at least until a city council meeting on late September or early October 2020, when the order could be extended if deemed necessary.

Masks will not be required in workplaces where physical distancing is possible under the Toronto bylaw. However, employers should note that mandatory mask policies for indoor public spaces will affect employees working in office buildings with shared lobbies and common areas, as well as offices and other indoor buildings that are open to the public.

On June 29, 2020, mayors from the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area issued a joint statement calling for the Ontario government to issue a broader mandatory face covering measure for indoor settings for the province’s large municipalities. However, Premier Doug Ford has stated that the Ontario government is not considering a provincial order to mandate wearing masks due to the difficulty of enforcing such an order.

On July 2, 2020, Brampton City Council voted unanimously to make wearing masks mandatory in enclosed spaces. The bylaw will require “persons or organizations that own or are responsible for the operation of a facility or business to have a policy to ensure non-medical masks or face coverings are worn by the public in enclosed public spaces.” The bylaw still needs to be ratified at council’s next meeting on July 8. A similar policy will also come into effect for Durham Region as of July 10, 2020.

The mayors of Mississauga and Caledon have also announced that they intend to pass bylaws requiring masks to be worn inside public spaces. A motion for mandatory masks in all indoor spaces, and in crowded outdoor spaces where physical distancing is not possible, has also been proposed for York Region. Meanwhile, mandatory mask policies on Toronto and York Region public transit came into effect on July 2, 2020.

Ontario to Provide Free Online Workplace Health and Safety Training for Jobseekers

On July 3, 2020, the Ontario government announced that it will be providing free online training on workplace health and safety for jobseekers. The training is designed to help prepare them for a safe return to work, and to give employers confidence that they are hiring workers equipped to help protect the heath and safety of coworkers and customers.

The online training will cover various workplace health and safety topics, including infection control in the context of COVID-19. The training will also be available to individuals who are currently working and are members of their workplace health and safety committees.

While this is a positive development for workplace health and safety, it does not replace the steps provincially-regulated Ontario employers must take to meet their broader obligation to take every precaution that is reasonable in the circumstances to protect the health and safety of their workers, as required under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, or the similar requirements for employers in other Canadian jurisdictions. Employers should ensure they are conducting risk assessments to identify health and safety risks specific to their workplaces and complying with government guidelines as they implement tailored health and safety policies.

This blog is provided as an information service and summary of workplace legal issues. This information is not intended as legal advice.