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COVID-19: Ontario Reopening Frequently Asked Questions

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Reopening the economy

When is the start of the first phase of reopening the economy in Ontario?

The Ontario has yet to announce when its official three-phase plan will begin. However, on May 1, 2020, they announced that select sectors will be allowed to re-open as of May 4, 2020 at 12:01 am.

Which sectors in Ontario are currently allowed to open?

Sectors allowed to open include:

  • Garden centres and nurseries with curbside pick-up and delivery only;
  • Lawn care and landscaping;
  • Additional essential construction projects that include:
    • shipping and logistics;
    • broadband, telecommunications, and digital infrastructure;
    • any other project that supports the improved delivery of goods and services;
    • municipal projects;
    • colleges and universities;
    • child care centres;
    • schools; and
    • site preparation, excavation, and servicing for institutional, commercial, industrial and residential development;
  • Automatic and self-serve car washes;
  • Auto dealerships, open by appointment only;
  • Golf courses may prepare their courses for the upcoming season, but not open to the public; and
  • Marinas may also begin preparations for the recreational boating season by servicing boats and other watercraft and placing boats in the water, but not open to the public. Boats and watercraft must be secured to a dock in the marina until public access is allowed.
What do I need to know before I can reopen my business?

The Ontario government has released workplace health and safety guidelines for sixty-five sectors to prepare for reopening businesses. Contact our Business Resources to inquire if your sector has any specific guidelines.

If I am reopening my business, does that mean the threat of COVID-19 is over?

No, in order to reduce exposure, you will need to follow your sectoral guidelines that ensure the safety of your employees and general public that your business comes in contact.

I am not on the initial list of businesses that can open, when can I open my business?

The Ontario government has released a Framework for Reopening our Province. It outlines a three-stage process to reopen Ontario. Each phase will be monitored by having a two-to-four-week assessment prior to shifting to next phase. Each phase will release the new set of workplaces, public spaces, and gatherings that can be open/available. 

Are there any fines for opening my business, if it is not considered essential or if it has not been reopened by government?

The Ontario government has announced strict fines under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act of up to $500,000 for director of a corporation, or up to $10,000,000 for a corporation or imprisonment of up to one year.

Employment Standards Act

My business can be open, how do I re-call my employees?

Provide employee with as much notice as you can. You can send a registered letter to your employee letting them know the date of their next shift, hours, along with any relevant information they need such as a contact person they can reach out to, like a supervisor, if they have any questions or concerns.

My business is financially unstable, can I reduce my employees’ wages when they return to work?

You are required to give proper notice to employees prior to changing any terms and conditions, such as reducing working hours, pay or entitlements that you have promised in a job description or letter of offer. Any drastic changes to an employee agreement can cause an employee to file a constructive dismissal claim to the Ministry of Labour. A Ministry of Labour inspector will investigate the claim. Please contact your Business Resources department for further details.

Does my employee qualify for the Easter Holiday pay, even when they when they weren’t scheduled to work due to COVID-19?

All employees, unless they are part of the Employment Standards Special Rule exemption, are eligible for Public Holiday Pay, as long as the employee worked their scheduled shift before the holiday and scheduled shift after the holiday, as per the “Last and First Rule”. Employees may also be entitled to holiday pay if they were not scheduled for the holiday shift or did perform duties on same day.

My employee is not returning due to the Ontario Infectious disease emergency leave, what does this mean?

The Ontario government has provided an unpaid, no limit, job protected, leave for employees (retroactive to January 25, 2020) if they are:

  • Quarantined
  • Isolated
  • Away from work due to school or day care closures
  • Caring for a relative
Can my employee take another leave after the Infectious disease emergency leave?

Depending on an employee situation, they may be entitled to another leave under the Employment Standards Act such as:

  • Sick leave
  • Family responsibility leave
  • Family caregiver leave
  • Family medical leave
  • Critical illness leave
  • Bereavement leave
  • Declared emergency leave
What are the rights of my employees that are on a provincial leave?

Your employee is entitled to return to work to same job or comparable job, without penalty, able to continue to receive their benefits (if opted in) and continue to add to years of service with your business.

I am considering terminating my employee at this time, what should I know?

The Ontario Ministry of Labour outlines an employee’s minimum entitlement when employee is being terminated. This includes termination notice or pay, as well as severance – each entitlement depends on length of employment. While this may seem like the only option, please consider speaking with your Business Resources team as this can be a sensitive time to make this decision.

My employee has decided to resign, what should I do?

If the employee has decided to part ways, the employee should give you a letter of resignation for your records. 

Occupational Health and Safety

What are my employee health and safety rights?

The Occupational Health and Safety requires all employers to take all reasonable precautions to protect the health and safety of workers. An employee has the right to participate by providing feedback to their employer, the right to know hazards that they may be exposed to, and the right to refuse working in unsafe environment.

What should I have in my workplace to maintain a safe environment?

While the Ontario government has created guidelines to assist as you reopen your business, every business is different, and you should assess your business operations to address potential risks. Preventative measures can include installing physical distancing signage, adding plexi-glass to create a barrier between customer and employee, and/or having a supply of hand sanitizer, paper towel, and soap for employees on site.

Along with creating preventative measures for your business, you should also aim to comply with current Occupational Health and Safety rules, such as having a violence and harassment policy and program, as well as health and safety policy and training your employees on Health and Safety Awareness.

My employee feels ill, do I have to send them home?

If your employee is ill, the employee must be sent home and you should contact your employee remotely to advise them to complete the online COVID-19 assessment, and call family physician or telehealth 1-866-797-0000. You should create a list of their whereabouts in the workplace, including but not limited to: the washroom, workstations, lunchroom, and equipment used so that you can assign a staff member to disinfect areas. If possible, also compile a list of staff they worked with during their shift.

What if I find out my employee has been exposed to COVID-19 at work, who do I notify?

If the employee tested positive for COVID-19: report it to the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development (in writing) within four (4) days, as well as your health and safety rep/committee. Your local Public Health Unit can provide further guidance.

What should I know about how WSIB will handle COVID-19 situations?

If an employee feels they have been exposed to COVID-19 during working hours, they can file for an Exposure Incident form that is provided by the Program Exposure Incident Reporting (PEIR), or the Construction Exposure Incident Reporting (CEIR) program if they are in the construction sector Both programs are voluntary and allow for WSIB to process your claim quicker another be needed.

What if my employees are refusing work due to COVID-19 concerns?

Employees have the right to refuse working under what they consider unsafe environment. If this is the case, remind your employees of the preventive measures that have put in place, and the safety products available to them. Communicate to the employee that their safety is your priority.

You may choose to reassign work, perhaps allowing them to work from home. In this case, the employee must receive the same wages and benefits as they would have received under their previous assignment. There is a work refusal process, which may include calling the Ministry of Labour’s OHSA inspector to ensure safety of employee and confirm if your preventative measures are up to the standards. Please contact us for further details on this topic.

Can I hire a replacement to an employee on a leave?

You can hire temporary employees to replace employees that are unable to return. When hiring temporary staff, provide them with a contract that details their terms and conditions – as well as a termination date as this serves as the formal termination date.

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