Effective July 16, 2021, Ontario entered "Step 3" of its Roadmap to Reopen.
The province's transition into Step 3 occurred five days ahead of schedule, following reduced new COVID-19 case growth and increasing adult vaccination rates.
New rules for businesses and recreational activities
In addition to business and recreational activities permitted during Step 2, current health protection protocols under Step 3 now permit:
- Outdoor social gatherings and organized public events for up to 100 people
- Indoor social gatherings and organized public events for up to 25 people
- Indoor dining with no limits to the number of patrons per table
- Retail with capacity limited to ensure physical distancing
- Indoor religious services, rites or ceremony gatherings with physical distancing
- Indoor sports and recreational fitness facilities with capacity limits
- Personal care services with capacity limited to ensure physical distancing
- Museums, casinos and bingo halls with capacity limits
- Cinemas, concert, theatres, and other performing arts venues with capacity limits
Notably, transitioning into Step 3 means that there is no longer a statutory requirement for employees to work remotely if their role does not require in-person attendance at the physical workplace.
Qualifying businesses (including office workplaces) are now permitted to allow workers to return to the physical workplace, subject to compliance with all applicable health and safety protocols and public health requirements, including local requirements introduced under Regional / Municipal By-laws, Orders issued by local Public Health Units, etc.
Gowling WLG focus
The following are key takeaways for employers:
- Despite improving vaccination rates and key public health indicators, the province has reserved its right to modify and adjust its plans, as necessary, to best deal with the continuing risks posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The province continues to closely monitor the COVID-19 Delta and Lambda variants, which are of significant public health concern.
- Each workplace must develop and maintain a compliant COVID-19 Workplace Safety Plan which must address, at a minimum, the following issues:
- Screening – Businesses must ensure that all persons entering their physical premises are "actively screened" either before or at the time they arrive at the workplace. Health screening questions must align with the province's updated COVID-19 worker and employee screening tool;
- Mandatory Face Covering – Businesses must ensure that employees, essential visitors and patrons are complying with applicable mandatory face covering requirements set out under Ontario Reg. 364/20;
- Physical Distancing – Businesses must ensure that employees, essential visitors and patrons are complying with applicable physical distancing protocols to the extent possible;
- Source protection / PPE – Businesses must ensure that persons at the workplace are meeting all applicable requirements for infectious disease source control and/or Personal Protective Equipment. Refer to the Ministry of Labour's guidance on Using masks in the workplace;
- Enhanced Sanitation – Business must comply with all applicable sanitation and infectious disease prevention and control guidelines for their industry sector; and
- Signage – Each business is required to post compliant signage that is relevant to its workplace setting, in order to comply with applicable provincial rules and local / Regional requirements.
Because compliance requirements in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic are consistently changing, employers are strongly encouraged to seek legal advice with respect to any matters relating to Step 3 or reopening generally. The Gowling WLG Employment, Labour & Equalities Group would be pleased to assist with any of your specific questions or concerns.