Current COVID-19 Considerations for the Workplace

With COVID-19 cases on the rise again in Ontario, the government has recently announced a number of new public health measures aimed at slowing the spread. These measures include new restrictions and requirements affecting businesses and workplaces operating amidst the pandemic.


(1) Screening Requirement

Effective September 25, 2020, all businesses in Ontario must screen workers and essential visitors for COVID-19 prior to them entering the workplace.

The COVID-19 Screening Tool for Workplaces, released by the Ontario Ministry of Health, requires workplaces to ask three mandatory screening questions to workers and essential visitors before or when they enter the workplace. If a worker or essential visitor answers "yes" to any of the questions, they should be advised to not enter the workplace and to self-isolate or seek medical assistance.

Employers are encouraged to provide employees with a form or questionnaire containing the required questions in advance of them arriving at work each day. Employees who pass the screening should be allowed to enter the workplace, but should immediately report if any symptoms developed.

This new screening requirement was implemented through an amendment to O. Reg. 364/20 Rules for Areas in Stage 3 ("Rules for Areas in Stage 3"),a regulation under the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, 2020. The amendment requires businesses to comply with the "advice, recommendations and instructions issued by the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health on screening individuals".

Accordingly, employers are advised to keep an eye out for any further advice, recommendations or instructions issued by the Chief Medical Officer of Health regarding screening requirements, such as updates to the required questions or additional screening measures.


(2) Mask Requirement

The Ontario government has also amended Rule for Areas in Stage 3 to require all businesses in Ontario to ensure that any person in the indoor areas of the business's premises wears a mask that covers their mouth and chin.

There are number of exceptions to the mask requirement, including general exclusions for young children and people with medical conditions or disabilities that prevent them from wearing a mask. Persons are also allowed to temporarily remove their masks for the following reasons:

  • to receive services that require the removal of their mask or face covering;
  • to engage in an athletic or fitness activity;
  • to consume food or drink; or
  • as may be necessary for the purposes of health and safety.

Additionally, the employees of a business are permitted to remove their masks at the workplace if they are in an area that is not accessible to members of the public and are able to maintain a physical distance of at least two meters. For example, an employee in a private office or well-spaced shared office space could remove their mask while working. However, when entering/exiting the business or using communal areas, such as bathrooms, employees should wear a face mask.


(3) Region and Industry Specific Measures

Given the higher rate of transmission experienced in Ottawa, Peel and Toronto, the Ontario government has also announced targeted measures aimed at reducing the spread in those regions.

Specifically, attendance at meetings and event facilities in those regions must not exceed 50 people per facility, with no more than 6 people per table.

There are also more restrictive capacity limits for food and drink, and fitness and gym establishments operating in Ottawa, Peel or Toronto.


(4) Extend Work from Home Options, if possible

With many top government and public health officials encouraging Ontarians to pause social circles and stay at home, employers are encouraged to implement or extend work from home options, where possible.

Employees should continue to comply with all public health measures and directives, including adhering to the screening and mask requirements when attending at the workplace.


Conclusion:

In light of the recent increase in COVID-19 cases and rapidly evolving governmental response, employers and employees are encouraged to keep themselves informed about the latest measures and restrictions.

If you have any questions or concerns about how theses measures may impact your workplace, Lee Workplace Law would be happy to assist.