What do the new Ontario-wide shutdown and zero-tolerance COVID-19 inspections mean for employers?

To combat surging Covid-19 cases within the province, the Ontario Government announced an emergency brake, which triggered a province-wide shutdown starting on April 3, 2021. On April 7, 2021, the government declared another provincial emergency, issuing a four-week stay-at-home order effective April 8, 2021. Both announcements affect business operations from safety procedures to necessary staffing and layoffs. Failure to comply with the new requirements will lead to fines and potential imprisonment.

Increased COVID-19 health and safety workplace inspections

While the stay-at-home order was issued, many workplaces are identified as essential, which means that they will remain open, and employees will continue to work on site. Recognizing that there are certain areas of the province that have been identified as COVID-19 hotspots, the provincial government has also launched a series of workplace inspection campaigns. Workplaces such as warehouses, food processors, manufacturers, and mall retailers will be subject to zero-tolerance COVID-19 compliance inspections beginning April 9, 2021. This means that infractions will be reported and result in appropriate fines without question. Provincial inspectors will not only be checking employee health and safety working conditions, but they will also be reviewing employer education programs related to COVID-19 safety requirements in the workplace.

What does this mean for employers?

Due to the new province-wide shutdown and stay-at-home order, non-essential businesses will need to either close, remain open at partial capacity, or instruct employees to work from home if possible. For essential businesses that are permitted to remain open with employees working on the premises, workplace COVID-19 safety requirements must be followed strictly. Failure to do so may expose employers to liabilities and lawsuits. For example, offences under Section 10 of the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, 2020, SO 2020, (“ROA”) could lead to imprisonment of up to one year in addition to fines against individuals and corporations. It may also tarnish employer reputation within the community, which can have a lasting negative effect on business growth and sustainability.

There are constant changes to workplace requirements as the pandemic evolves. Employers are responsible for both keeping up with the changes as well as interpreting how they should be implemented in the workplace. While following announcements on the news or speaking with other business owners may indicate when change is happening, second-hand information may not pertain to your location or type of business.

Employers are encouraged to seek out official channels for information from.

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