Williams HR Law LLP

Ontario Introduces New “Exit Step” to Provincial Reopening Framework to Lift Most COVID-19 Restrictions

August 17, 2021

On July 30, 2021, the Ontario government filed a new regulation which indicates that upon exit of the province’s Roadmap to Reopen framework (the “Roadmap”), most public health measures will be lifted while some others will remain in place (for more information on the Roadmap, please read our previous blog). The newly filed regulation, O. Reg 541/21 (the “Regulation”), amends O Reg 364/20: Rules for Areas at Step 3 under the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, 2020 to add a “Roadmap Exit Step”.

Ontario entered Step 3 on July 16, 2021 and currently remains there, despite that the province has passed Step 3’s 21-day window—the minimum amount of time the province is required to spend at any step before moving forward, per the Roadmap. The government has not provided further information about when Ontario will enter the Roadmap Exit Step. This means that at present, employers are still required to follow the rules under Step 3 of the Roadmap (see our previous blog about the rules in place for employers during Step 3).

Measures to be Lifted or Loosened

At the Roadmap Exit Step, most existing public health requirements and restrictions will be lifted entirely. This includes measures related to capacity limits in all sectors and attendance limits for social gatherings and organized public events, and active screening of patrons and workers.

Other requirements will be loosened. For example, workplace safety plans, while still required, will no longer need to set out measures taken in the workplace related to cleaning and disinfecting, personal protective equipment (“PPE”), and crowd control.

Measures to Remain in Place

General Rules

All businesses and organizations will remain subject to the following general rules:

  • Compliance with all applicable laws: Employers must ensure that their business or organization operates in compliance with all applicable laws, including the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the regulations made under it.
  • Compliance with public health advice, recommendations, and instructions with respect to physical distancing, cleaning and disinfecting, and screening: Employers must operate their business or organization in compliance with the advice, recommendations, and instructions of public health officials and the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health (“CMOH”) with respect to physical distancing, cleaning and disinfecting, and screening.

In particular, employers must follow existing passive screening requirements by posting signs at all entrances to the premises of their business or organization, in a location conspicuously visible to the public, that inform individuals on how to screen themselves for COVID-19 prior to entering the premises.

  • Masking: Individuals will still be required to wear face coverings or masks in indoor public settings (including retail and workplace settings), subject to the limited exceptions that are currently in effect. Businesses and organizations must also ensure that if an individual removes their face covering or mask to consume food or drink, they must be separated by at least two metres or by plexiglass or other impermeable barrier.
  • Personal Protective Equipment: Individuals will be required to wear PPE that protects their eyes, nose, and mouth if, in the course of providing services and while in an indoor area, they are required to come within two metres of another person who is not wearing a mask or face covering, and they are not separated from the person by plexiglass or other impermeable barrier.
  • Safety plans: Employers must prepare, make available, and post a written safety plan no later than seven days after this requirement first applies to the business or organization. The safety plan must describe the measures which have been or will be implemented in the workplace. It must be posted in a conspicuous place where it is most likely to come to the attention of patrons and employees.
  • Contact tracing: Businesses and organizations where contact tracing is currently required (such as recreational fitness facilities, gaming establishments, and food and drink establishments) will be required to continue contact tracing.

Sector-specific Rules

In addition to the general rules set out above, the Regulation also sets out sector-specific rules and requirements that will apply to the following businesses and organizations:

  • Schools: Schools and private schools within the meaning of the Education Act must operate in accordance with a return to school direction issued by the Ministry of Education and approved by the CMOH.
  • Day camps and overnight camps: Day camps and overnight camps must operate in a manner consistent with the safety guidelines for COVID-19 for day camps produced by the CMOH.
  • Cannabis retail stores: Cannabis retail stores authorized to operate under the Cannabis Licence Act, 2018 must provide products to patrons through in-person sales or through an alternative method of sale, such as curbside pick-up or delivery.

Takeaways for Employers

It is important to note that despite Ontario’s introduction of the Roadmap Exit Step, the province currently remains at Step 3 of the Roadmap, and the existing rules at Step 3 will continue to apply to employers until further notice.

There remains much uncertainty around the COVID-19 pandemic, and case numbers have not yet stabilized. Over the last few weeks, we have seen a rise in the number of Delta variant cases in Ontario. Therefore, in the coming weeks or months, the Ontario government may amend the Roadmap Exit Step to impose more stringent public health measures if case numbers continue to rise.

Given that COVID-19 related measures and requirements are subject to constant change, employers should continually monitor for changes to the applicable requirements and public health guidance. As always, we will post further updates as they become available to keep you In the Know.

This blog is provided as an information service and summary of workplace legal issues.

This information is not intended as legal advice.