Williams HR Law LLP

Ontario Has Shortened the Essential Workplaces List

April 7, 2020

APRIL 7 UPDATE: After deeming cannabis retail stores non-essential workplaces on April 3, the provincial government passed an emergency order on April 7 to allow cannabis retail stores to reopen on a limited basis. Cannabis retail stores will be allowed to reopen for online and telephone orders, which customers will be able to pick up from retail stores or have delivered by sales associates.

On April 3, 2020, the Ontario government announced that many workplaces that were previously deemed to be essential for the purposes of the province’s emergency order will no longer be considered essential and will be required to close during the COVID-19 pandemic. Certain other essential workplaces will be required to start operating differently. These changes will be effective April 5, 2020. Ontario is reducing the number of workplaces that are allowed to remain open pursuant to the advice of Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, to reduce contact between people and to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

As we have stated previously, it is crucial for employers to recognize that Ontario’s emergency order does not prevent employers with “non-essential workplaces” from having employees work from home.

The Ontario government has released a new list of the types of workplaces that it deems to be essential and that are therefore not subject to the shutdown order. The most notable types of workplaces that have been removed from the essential workplaces list altogether are industrial construction sites, except for “critical industrial projects” (e.g., the construction of hospitals).

Some other categories of essential businesses have been significantly narrowed. For example, the “industrial maintenance services” category which includes businesses that maintain the safety, security, sanitation, and essential operation of institutional, commercial, industrial and residential properties and buildings has been narrowed to those businesses that are “strictly necessary”.

Moreover, a number of retail and wholesalers will be restricted to “alternative methods of sale”, meaning that they can only sell items and provide them to customers through methods like curb-side pickup or delivery, including stores that sell:

  • Hardware products;
  • Vehicle parts and supplies;
  • Pet and animal supplies;
  • Office supplies and computer products (including computer repair); and
  • Safety supplies.

Employers should consult the new official list of essential workplaces to determine whether they are now subject to the shutdown order or whether they will be required to start operating differently on April 5, 2020.

Employers can also call the province’s toll-free Stop the Spread Business Information Line at 1-888-444-3659 if they are unsure whether their workplace is/will be considered essential, or if they have other questions about the emergency shutdown order.

Employers with workplaces that will no longer be considered “essential” and that have not already done so should, to the extent possible, arrange for work-from-home arrangements for employees to the extent possible before the new list comes into effect at 11:59pm on April 4, 2020. These employers should also determine the impact of the shutdown on employees who will be unable to work due to the shutdown, which in many cases will involve the difficult decision to lay employees off.

On the other hand, workplaces that will be required to begin operating differently, such as retail stores selling hardware products or pet supplies, should immediately consider how they will provide alternative methods of sale in compliance with the order.

Finally, all employers that will be required to shut down or start operating differently on April 5, 2020 should also note that this will almost certainly have significant HR implications for their organization. We encourage those employers to consult the videos and other articles on this Resource Centre for information on a variety of topics in the COVID-19 context, including: layoffs, employment insurance, workers’ compensation, the federal wage subsidies, the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (“CERB”), and more.

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