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THE WEEK IN REVIEW #12: KEY COVID-19 DEVELOPMENTS FOR ONTARIO EMPLOYERS

June 15, 2020

This is the twelfth bulletin in a weekly series that provides a recap of important COVID-19 developments and their impact on employers as they navigate these challenging times. This recap covers the week of June 8, 2020 and is current as of June 15, 2020.

During the week of June 8, 2020, The Ontario government proposed new legislation to ban certain commercial evictions and released safety guidance for public transit agencies, while the federal government launched a new PPE supply hub website. Later in the week, most regions in Ontario were allowed to proceed to Stage 2 of the province’s reopening plan. In addition, childcare centres province-wide were allowed to begin reopening under strict requirements outlined in the province’s new guidance for childcare operators.

These key developments are set out below.

Premier Doug Ford Announced Plans for New Legislation to Ban Commercial Evictions

On June 8, 2020, Premier Doug Ford announced plans to introduce new legislation that would ban evictions of commercial tenants who qualify for the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (“CECRA”) program, where commercial landlords have not taken advantage of this relief program.

The ban, which would take effect for any evictions between June and August 31, 2020, inclusive, aims to help protect small businesses struggling with the negative impacts of COVID-19 against evictions and asset seizures by property owners.

Federal Government Launched New PPE Supply Hub Website

On June 9, 2020, the federal government launched a new Supply Hub website to connect Canadian businesses and organizations with resources and information about personal protective equipment (“PPE”). The website provides organizations with PPE supplier lists, consumer guidance, and other information to help support their reopening in a manner that complies with occupational health and safety obligations.

Ontario Government Released Safety Guidance Document for Public Transit Agencies

On June 11, 2020, the Ontario government released safety guidelines for public transit agencies to help protect employees and passengers. The guidance document is not intended to be legally binding, and instructs transit agencies to use their discretion when implementing measures, while continuing to prioritize health and safety of workers and passengers. The guidelines include tips and best practices, such as installing physical barriers between drivers and passengers, using physical markers between seats, and recommending the use of face coverings for passengers.

For more details on the new public transit safety guidance, please see our recent article.

Most Ontario Regions Proceeded to Stage 2 of the Province’s Reopening Plan

On June 12, 2020, most public health unit regions in the province were allowed to move to Stage 2 of Ontario’s reopening plan, as announced earlier in the week. Stage 2 significantly expands the range of activities permitted to take place, allowing businesses in many sectors to reopen, from restaurants and bars to hair salons and entertainment services. For more details on the specific services and activities allowed during Stage 2, see the news release from the Office of the Premier.

The regions not yet allowed to proceed to Stage 2 were those near the Greater Toronto Area and close to the United States border. The provincial government is continuing to assess the situation in these regions to determine when they will be ready to advance to Stage 2. For more details about the announcement, see our recent article.

Also, the Ontario government announced new province-wide public health guidelines on June 12, 2020, allowing for “social circles” of up to 10 people who are permitted to come into close contact. These new guidelines came into effect immediately on June 12.

Ontario Childcare Centres are Permitted to Re-Open under New Operational Guidance

On June 12, 2020, childcare centres province-wide were allowed to begin reopening, with strict health and safety measures in place.

On June 9, 2020, the Ontario government released operational guidance to support the reopening of childcare centres, which addresses specific licensing and health and safety requirements including screening, testing, staffing, and prioritizing families’ access to childcare spaces. The guidance document notes that the advice of local public health units will prevail in case of any conflict with the requirements laid out in this new document. (For more information about the guidance document, please see our recent article).

Despite the official reopening date of June 12, 2020, all childcare centres must put in place the new health and safety requirements and notify the Ministry of Education of all their health and safety protocols before they will be allowed to reopen. Many childcare employers may need several weeks to fully develop and implement all the new requirements before they can reopen.

The government is also developing a guidance document to specifically address funding for childcare programs.

Takeaways for Childcare Centres

Childcare centres should note that their legal obligation to provide a safe workplace for their employees will likely require them to go beyond the government’s guidance and implement even more strict workplace health and safety policies. Employers in this sector should therefore conduct tailored risk-assessments to capture the risks specific to their unique workplaces to ensure worker safety as they plan their reopening.

In addition, centres will need to determine how to manage their workforces as they plan to reopen. Most centres will likely not have enough work for all their staff, given the government restrictions on how many children can return to each centre. Centres should be careful in deciding which employees to recall to work.

Takeaways for Employers in General

The reopening of childcare centres is generally good news for employers with employees who have childcare obligations which may have impacted their ability to return to work up until this point, as many employees will be able to send their children back to daycare and recommence their regular work schedule. However, many employees may not have access to childcare spaces that were available prior to COVID-19 due to the limited capacity of childcare centres. Additionally, many employees may still be reluctant to send their children back to childcare centres, even if it would allow them to return to work.

Employers will generally still have a duty to accommodate employees who have childcare obligations and do not have reasonable alternative childcare arrangements available. These employees will also generally continue to be eligible for the Infectious Disease Emergency Leave if their ongoing childcare obligations prohibit them from returning to work. As childcare centres reopen, employers should be cautious not to penalize employees who may still have legitimate care obligations that cannot be met through childcare services available to them.

For further discussion about the reopening of childcare centres, please see our recent article.

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

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