Easter Bunny told to stay home for another year, but can your business remain open?
- Today’s announcement: This afternoon, the Premier of Ontario announced that in light of increasing COVID cases, the province would enter an ‘Emergency Brake Shutdown’ for a period of four (4) weeks.
- When does this ‘Emergency Brake Shutdown’ commence: the “shutdown’ will commence at 12:01 am on Saturday, April 3, 2021.
- Can my business still operate and how is this ‘Emergency Brake Shutdown’ different from all existing (and previous) COVID protocols: From this afternoons announcement, it appears that the only differences are as follows:
- Firstly, the ‘shutdown’ is Province wide and moves all regions into the same category of restriction. Seemingly, the aim is to prevent inter-regional travel;
- Secondly, social gatherings are limited to immediate households only and with outdoor gatherings limited to a total of five persons – provided as well that social distancing is practiced;
- Religious gatherings and ceremonies are reduced to 15% capacity;
- Both indoor and outdoor dining is no longer permitted, nor are gyms or personal services (i.e. hair and nail salons); and
- Retail shopping where food and essentials are sold, are required to limit store capacity to 50%, with all other retailers being limited to 25% of total capacity.
Work-from-home and associated school closures
- Schools: While no announcements have been made regarding school closures (yet) and therefore the associated impact on the workplace is still to be seen – given that this decision is still under consideration, the government is continuing to recommend that employers permit work-from-home arrangements where possible. However and importantly, the Premier has made it clear that this ‘Emergency Brake Shutdown’ is not a mandatory stay at home order, like the one previously ordered and therefore unless specifically limited through today’s announcement, businesses can continue to operate provided that they continue to follow existing COVID-protocols.
What can employers expect over the coming weeks?
- Enhanced enforcement of COVID-19 Safety Requirements: At the beginning of March 2021, inspectors at the Ministry of Labour were put through additional training to better manage compliance and the enforcement of COVID protocols in the workplace. Furthermore, approximately 100 additional health and safety inspectors have been hired across Ontario and it is likely that large retailers and the agricultural sector will remain focal points for future inspections in the coming weeks, but with other sectors and employers starting to garner attention too.
- How should employers prepare for these inspections: Apart from continuing to follow all existing COVID protocols and having a safety plan in place, (active) daily screening is now required and appears to be gaining greater attention from the Ministry. When screening, employers should be gathering information in enough detail to assist with contact tracing. Furthermore, daily screening records should be retained for a period of 30 days and need to be made available in the case of an outbreak, or to the Ministry for purposes of monitor ongoing compliance. Employers should also focus on high contact areas that may attract attention from inspectors, such as lunch and break rooms, as well as entrance and exit points to the work place. Employers are also reminded to have posters up at their entrances with the relevant screening questions as fines are now being issued in cases of non-compliance.
As the Province moves through its vaccination drive and my staff opt to get vaccinated, would they now become exempt from the daily screening requirement and/or the need to wear a mask etc.?
- Current indications are that individuals who have received the vaccine will still need to comply with COVID protocols, as well as daily screening. This is likely as a result of the science still being unclear as to the true effects of the vaccine i.e. whether a vaccinated individual can still carry and pass-on COVID-19 to other employees. We also have the growing list of COVID-19 variants, some of which appear to be more immune to the vaccine. Therefore and for time being, all existing and legislated COVID protocols should continue to be followed, whether staff are vaccinated or not.
We will continue to share updates and insights in the coming weeks however, for specific questions, please feel free to reach out to us directly at – firstname.lastname@example.org (519) 859 6015