Effective January 20, 2021, the Ontario government is increasing workplace inspections of retailers and other workplaces as part of a crackdown on compliance to ensure COVID-19 safety protocols are being followed and enforced.

Previously, the Government of Ontario announced that it would be sending Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development (MOLTSD) health and safety inspectors, local bylaw officers, and police officers to “big-box stores” in the Toronto, Hamilton, Peel, York, and Durham regions to enforce COVID-19 health and safety requirements.

Now, the Government of Ontario is expanding its workplace inspections beyond big-box stores to smaller retailers, restaurants, essential service-sector establishments, and farming operations.

Inspectors and officers are empowered to issue tickets to employees and patrons who fail to wear masks, maintain physical distancing, and comply with other COVID-19 health and safety measures. Inspectors also have the authority to temporarily close workplaces that fail to comply.

These blitzes form a part of the Ontario government’s “Stay Safe All Day” campaign focused on areas in the workplace that carry a high risk of virus transmission. The blitzes target workplaces and industry sectors that have been identified as higher risk through public health reporting data, including the following:

  • Workplaces with reported COVID-19 outbreaks
  • Manufacturing
  • Warehousing
  • Distribution centres
  • Food processing
  • Publicly accessible workplaces deemed essential, such as grocery stores

Fines

 If a business or individual fails to comply with orders made under the Reopening Ontario Act, 2020, or the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act the set fines are:

  • $750 for individuals failing to comply with the requirements;
  • $1,000 for corporations failing to comply with the requirements; and
  • $1,000 for obstructing others “(including employees or other workers)” from complying with the requirements

Employers may also face fines of up to $100,000 for individuals and up to $10 million for corporations failing to comply with health and safety measures under the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, 2020. Failing to comply with measures or orders under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act can result in fines of up to $100,000 for individuals, up to $500,000 for directors or officers of corporations, or up to $10 million for corporations.

Individuals found to be in violation of the acts may also be imprisoned for up to one year if convicted on prosecution.

A failure to notify the MOLTSD of an occupational illness, including COVID-19, can also result in a fine for an employer under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. An employer is required to provide written notice of any occupational illness to the MOLTSD, to the joint health and safety committee or health and safety representative, and to the trade union, if any. Individuals who contravene the Occupational Health and Safety Act and are found guilty of an offence on conviction could be liable for a maximum fine of $100,000, imprisonment for a term of not more than 12 months, or both. Corporations convicted could be subject to a maximum fine of $1,500,000.

Key Takeaways for Employers

Essential employers that continue to have workers present in the workplace must ensure that all employees and visitors or patrons comply with health and safety measures. Steps employers may take to achieve this goal include:

  • ensuring that any employee who can work from home, does work from home;
  • reviewing and implementing COVID-19 workplace safety plans, which, according to the Ontario government, are “encouraged” for all employers, and mandatory for businesses that are permitted to be open;
  • reporting all occupational illnesses to the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development, the workplace’s joint health and safety committee or representative, and the trade union, if any; and
  • if informed by employees who test positive for COVID-19 that they believe they contracted COVID-19 in the workplace, reporting the illnesses to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.

Ogletree Deakins will continue to monitor and report on developments with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic and will post updates in the firm’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resource Center as additional information becomes available. Important information for employers is also available via the firm’s webinar and podcast programs.

Employers doing business in Canada and seeking further information regarding COVID-19 workplace issues, safe operating requirements and strategies, and vaccination policies, are invited to attend Ogletree Deakins’ webinar on January 20, 2021, “Canada Update: Managing the Next COVID-19 Wave and Critical Developments From 2020.” Register for this timely program here.

Stephen Shore is a partner in the Toronto office of Ogletree Deakins.

Christina S. Persad is an associate in the Toronto office of Ogletree Deakins.

Caroline M. DeBruin is a 2020 graduate of Queen’s University, Faculty of Law, and an articling student in the Toronto office of Ogletree Deakins.