As the provincial and federal governments implement the reopening of our economies, businesses and employers face a new set of challenges. The following is a Q&A primer.
1. I’m a small business owner. When can I reopen?
Reopening of businesses will take place in three stages with stage 1 underway since May 8. These include garden centres, nurseries, hardware stores and non-essential retail with a street entrance and curbside pick-up. Although no specific dates have been announced for further re-openings, more businesses will be allowed to open based on risk assessments. In Stage 2, more workplaces may include some service industries and additional office and retail workplaces. In Stage 3, all workplaces will be opened responsibly.
2. What are the rules and regulations I have to follow when I re-open?
The Ontario Government released new sector-specific guidelines employers can begin to plan for including:
• Ways to ensure appropriate physical distancing, like eliminating pay-at-the-door options, holding team meetings outdoors, staggering shift times and using ground markings and barriers to manage traffic flow.
• Changes to the workplace, like installing plexiglass barriers, increasing the air intake on building heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems to increase air flow, and using boot sanitizing trays.
• Promoting proper workplace sanitation, providing personal protective equipment, substituting dry dusting with vacuuming, ensuring customer-facing staff are given hand sanitizer, providing a place to dispose of sanitizing wipes, and enforcing handwashing before and after breaks.
For a comprehensive list of measure and tools by industry consult the Ontario Government Resources to prevent COVID-19 in the Workplace link https://www.ontario.ca/page/resources-prevent-covid-19-workplace
3. What if an employee refuses to return to work for fear of contracting COVID-19?
The employer is required to inspect the workplace to determine whether the concern is objectively reasonable and if so, whether steps can be taken to diminish or eliminate the hazard. Mitigating steps can include:
• whether remote work is possible;
• the availability of hand sanitizer, surface wipes, tissues, and whether an employee can wear a mask and gloves;
• whether social distancing is possible, such as maintaining a 1meter distance at all times.
If the worker is of the view that the hazard remains, the Ministry of Labour should be contacted and an investigator will attend and make a determination.
COVID-19: Additional Facts You Should Know
Employers and Work Place Concerns
• employers are mandated by law to take all reasonable precautions to protect the health and safety of their workers
• Implement local, provincial and federally recommended precautionary measures
• take proactive measures to do a full clean and sanitization of the office space
• take special care in respect of individuals that are particularly vulnerable
• restrict all in-person or all non-essential meetings
• restrict all business or all non-essential business travel
• send employees home who are exhibiting symptoms
• employees who exhibit symptoms should be paid for their 14 days of self-isolation
• accommodate employees who need time off for childcare during school closures with work from home or flexible hours
Note that the recommendations set out above are general guidelines and that the employer’s duty is subject to a number of legislations, regulations and common law principles. Employers are encouraged to contact us to seek advice.
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