Your business and COVID-19 in Ontario
Public health measures & restrictions & important dates
The Ontario government has lifted many of the remaining public health measures as of March 1, 2022, including:
- remaining capacity limits
- vaccine passports
- active daily employee screening for most businesses
Businesses that wish to continue using vaccine passports and/or daily employee screening will be allowed to do so voluntarily. Other protective measures, such as mandatory masks, will remain in place.
Mask mandates were removed for most business settings on March 21, 2022. Remaining mask mandates, such as those for public transit, will lift on April 27, 2022.
Remember: local health units create their own rules. Please be sure to check in with your local health unit to ensure you are compliant once the provincial measures end.
For more information please visit the following link: Ontario Public Health Measures and Advice
OH&S and employment standards/labour legislation changes
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, right to know hazards 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 re-open your business, every business is different, and you should assess your business operations to address potential risks. Preventative measures can include physical distancing signs on floor, adding plexi-glass to create barrier between customer and employee, along with having a supply of hand sanitizers, paper towel, and soap.
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, employee must be sent home and you should contact your employee remotely to advise them to complete online assessment, call family physician or telehealth 1-866-797-0000. You should create a list of their whereabouts in workplace: washroom, workstations, lunchroom, and equipment used so that you can assign a staff member to disinfect areas. If possible, also 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 employee tested positive for COVID-19, report it to the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development (in writing) within four (4) days. For contact details, please call 1 877-202-0008, 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 Construction Exposure Incident Reporting (CEIR) program, which is specifically to the construction sector. Both programs are voluntary, it allows for WSIB to process your claim quicker should you get ill in future.
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, in which may include calling the Ministry of Labour’s OHSA inspector at 1 877-202-0008 to ensure safety of employee and confirm if your preventative measures are up to the standards.
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 termination date.
Many small business owners are concerned about how to handle vaccination questions in the workplace. The following information is provided by the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
Can my employer ask me if I have tested positive for COVID-19? Can they disclose that information and my name to other employees?
Generally, an employer does not have the right to know a person’s confidential medical information or disclose that information to others. However, in situations like the COVID-19 pandemic, in some cases it may be necessary for an employer to request and disclose information about an employee’s health to others, if there are compelling circumstances affecting employee health and safety. Making overbroad requests and sharing medical information may undermine the dignity and privacy of employees with disabilities. Request and share medical information only in a way that intrudes as little as possible on a person’s privacy and does not go beyond what is necessary to ensure employees are healthy and safe and/or to accommodate an employee’s individual needs.
Can my employer or any service or housing provider require proof that I’ve received a COVID-19 vaccine?
Receiving a COVID-19 vaccine is voluntary. At the same time, the government of Ontario has said they plan to issue proof-of-vaccination cards to people who receive a COVID-19 vaccine who may be required to take part in some activities. Requiring proof of vaccination to ensure fitness to safely perform work, or protect people receiving services or living in congregate housing, may be permissible under the Code if the requirement is made in good faith and is reasonably necessary for reasons related to safety.
I do not believe in vaccinations (or masks and lockdowns). Does the Human Rights Code exempt me based on creed from COVID-19 requirements like providing proof of vaccination?
Not all beliefs amount to a creed under the Code. And not all creed-related needs must be accommodated in the Code-protected social areas, such as employment, facilities and services or housing, especially when serious risks to public health and safety are shown to exist like during a pandemic. The Code does not define creed. The OHRC’s Policy on preventing discrimination based on creed sets out guiding factors, based on case law, to help organizations, and ultimately tribunals and courts, make these determinations. This includes considering whether the belief is:
- Sincerely, freely and deeply held
- Integrally linked to a person’s identity, self-definition and fulfilment
- Part of a particular and comprehensive, overarching system of belief that governs one’s conduct and practices
- Addressing ultimate questions of human existence, including ideas about life, purpose, death, and the existence or non-existence of a Creator and/or a higher or different order of existence
- Connected in some way to an organization or community that professes a shared system of belief.
The OHRC’s position is that a singular belief or personal preference against vaccinations or masks does not appear to be protected on the ground of creed under the Code
Can I force my employees to get vaccinated?
It may be possible to put a vaccination policy in place, or to make being vaccinated a condition of employment; however, it is important that accommodations are made for employees who cannot be vaccinated for medical or religious reasons. It is worth noting that terminating an employee for not getting the vaccine could lead to a claim of unfair dismissal.
Before implementing a mandatory vaccination policy, consider the following:
- Does the workplace serve a vulnerable population?
- What is the nature and duration of the employee’s contact with that population?
- Assess risk for different positions – you may want to avoid an all-employee blanket policy.
Ensure the policy is clear and employees understand consequences for non-compliance.
It is strongly recommended you consult with legal counsel to evaluate the risk of a mandatory vaccination policy in your workplace.
CFIB has a template vaccination policy available to members in our Resource Library. Please note: due to the legal implications, our Advisors are not in a position to help customize this template. To customize it, you should speak with a lawyer.
Rapid testing has become widely available across Ontario through programs from Shoppers Drug Mart; local Chambers of Commerce; and the Ontario government. Check with these sites directly to see if you are eligible to receive low cost or free rapid tests for your workplace!
What to do if an employee tests positive?
Review your procedures for responding to a sick person at work:
- Continue to encourage workers to self-assess and report any symptoms even if mild.
- Ask workers to self-isolate, wash or sanitize their hands, and wear a mask (preferably a medical mask) until they can return home.
- Consider preparing a separate area away from others in advance, such as the first aid room, an empty office, or a seat behind a barrier if space is limited.
- Call 911 for assistance if the worker is severely ill (such as difficultly breathing or chest pain).
- Clean and disinfect any surfaces or items that the worker has contacted:
- Close off all areas the person used or was in. Consider common areas (e.g., washrooms), and any shared items (e.g. touch screens).
- Increase air circulation in those areas by using the ventilation system or by opening doors and windows.
- Wait 24 hours, if possible, before cleaning the areas.
- Continue to follow routine procedures for cleaning and disinfecting.
- Additional cleaning and disinfecting are not necessary if seven or more days has passed since the person who is ill or tests positive for COVID-19 was in the facility.
- Provide information to workers on employer leaves of absences, sick benefits, and alternate government benefits.
Can an employer force an employee to take a Rapid Test?
The Ontario Human Rights Code policy position is that the Code ground of disability is engaged when employers, housing or other service providers impose medical testing, such as taking your temperature, or having you take a COVID-19 test. Medical testing to determine fitness to safely perform work, or protect people receiving services or living in congregate housing, may be permissible under the Code if the testing is shown to be effective and necessary in circumstances such as a pandemic. At the same time, the use of information from medical tests may have a negative impact based on a person’s disability. Organizations should only seek information from medical testing that is reasonably necessary to protect everyone’s health and safety, while excluding unnecessary information that may identify a pre-existing disability. Any form of medical testing should be effective at assessing an employee’s ability to safely perform work, or to protect people receiving services or living in congregate housing. Only a qualified person should conduct medical tests.
A test result must not lead to automatic negative consequences such as employee discipline or termination, complete denial of service or eviction from housing, because, for example, a person is exhibiting certain symptoms or a test shows they have, may have had, or have not yet been exposed to COVID-19.
Organizations have a duty under the Code to accommodate people who are negatively impacted by COVID-19 test results, unless it would amount to undue hardship based on cost or health and safety.
Everyone involved should be flexible in exploring accommodations, including alternative ways a person might continue to safely work, receive a service or live in congregate housing.
Organizations should make clear the reasons why a medical test is needed in the circumstances, and ensure prior, informed consent.
Organizations must explain how they will use and dispose of information from a test and protect the person’s privacy as much as possible.
Organizations should only require the least intrusive means of testing necessary in the circumstances.
In addition, employees have rights and employers have obligations for workers’ health and safety under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Visit the Ontario Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development website for more information, including how to contact the Ministry.
- Mental Health Commission of Canada
- Canadian Mental Health Association
- Government of Canada
- COVID-19 Information Lineat 1‑833‑784‑4397
- Anxiety Canada(Information and self-management strategies for anxiety)
- Crisis help across Canada – theCanadian Association for Suicide Preventionprovides a list ofcrisis centresacross Canada. (English & French)
- Hope for Wellness Help Line(1-855-242-3310) gives free national telephone crisis intervention and counselling support for First Nations and Inuit.
- Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety- Mental Health(English French)
- Morneau Shepellhas launched a national crisis support line that is available to anyone in need of emotional support. The crisis line can be reached at 1-844-751-2133 (ONLY APPLICABLE TO CLIENTS & FAMILY MEMBERS USING MORNEAU SERVICES).
- CCHOSFree Mental Health E-Course
- CMHAMental Health Supports
Ontario provincial resources:
- Call ConnexOntario at 1-866-531-2600
- Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000
- Ontario mental health and addiction services
- Bounce Back Ontario
- Ontario Mental Health Support Resources
- Mind Beacon
- 211 Ontario
Financial relief & government support
Workers Income Protection Benefit (WIPB)
In the framework of this program, the Ontario government amended the Employment Standards Act on April 29,2021 to provide employees with a one time benefit of up to 3 days of paid infectious disease emergency leave (IDEL). According to the government, this emergency leave is available for reasons related to Covid-19 including:
- going for a COVID-19 test
- staying home awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test
- being sick with COVID-19
- getting individual medical treatment for mental health reasons related to COVID-19
- going to get vaccinated
- experiencing a side effect from a COVID-19 vaccination
- having been advised to self-isolate due to COVID-19 by an employer, medical practitioner or other specified authority
- providing care or support to certain relatives for COVID-19 related reasons, such as when they are:
- sick with COVID-19 or have symptoms of COVID-19
- self-isolating due to COVID-19 on the advice of a medical practitioner or other specified authority
The WIPB is being administered via the Workplace Safety Insurance Board (WSIB). This program will reimburse employees for up to 3 days of sick leave up to a maximum of $200. Please note this benefit can only be used once per employee and does not renew yearly.
The WIPB has been extended to July 31, 2022. For more details, please call the Ontario Covid-19 Worker Income Protection Benefit Information Centre at 1-888-999-2248.
Ontario Covid-19 Small Business Relief Grant
The Ontario Small Business Relief Grant is closed.
Please direct eligibility and other questions to the Grant Hotline at 1-855-216-3090, or email OntarioSmallBusinessReliefGrant1@ontario.ca.
Provincially Administered Taxes
The Ontario government will provide a six-month interest- and penalty-free period to improve cash flows. The six-month period will begin on January 1, 2022 and end on July 1, 2022. More details can be found here.