Canada: Toronto Employers Required to Take Additional Measures to Minimize Spread of COVID-19 in Workplaces

On January 4, 2021, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health issued Toronto Public Health Instructions for Workplaces (Instructions), addressed to “All Employers and Persons Responsible for a Business or Organization in the City of Toronto Permitted to be Open under the Reopening Ontario Act.”  The Instructions, effective immediately, were issued in response to the continued rise of COVID-19 infections in Toronto and the need to reduce the spread.  They include reporting requirements, infection prevention measures, and an obligation to make workers aware of income replacement and workplace-related benefits to which they are entitled if they have to isolate.  In addition, Toronto Public Health (TPH) announced that as of January 7, 2021, workplace-related outbreaks will be publicly reported. 

Reporting Requirements

The Instructions require employers to immediately notify TPH as soon as they become aware of two or more people who test positive for COVID-19 within a 14-day interval in connection with their workplace premises, and:

  • Provide contact information for a designated contact person at the workplace premise and ensure they are readily available to:
    • communicate with TPH; and
    • implement additional measures immediately as required by TPH.
  • Ensure accurate and updated contact information for all workers is available to TPH within 24 hours of a request in support of case management and contact tracing requirements for COVID-19.
  • Cooperate with infection prevention and control personnel from TPH, including by allowing them entry into the workplace for inspection, and supporting enhanced infection prevention and control measures and recommendations.

The Instructions define a “workplace” as “any land, premises, location or thing at, upon, in or near which a worker works.”

Infection Prevention Measures

The Instructions require employers to immediately implement the following infection prevention measures:

  • Ensure hand sanitizer and hand-washing facilities are provided in work and rest areas. Hand sanitizer with 60-90% alcohol content is recommended.
  • Implement rigorous and frequent environmental cleaning in all high-touch areas and those areas accessible to the public, including washrooms, check-out counters, concession stands, and other high-touch surfaces, such as doorknobs and elevator buttons.
  • Conduct or have the property owner or landlord conduct a regular review of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems to ensure they are functioning well.
  • Minimize instances of more than one individual in a vehicle for driving associated with work. If unavoidable, ensure face coverings are worn in the vehicle (preferably medical masks) and drive with the windows open.
  • Ensure that physical distancing of workers takes place by at least two metres throughout the workplace and during eating and rest periods (e.g., in lunchrooms, change rooms, and washrooms). Install one-way walkways to reduce close physical interactions.
  • Implement physical barriers, such as Plexiglas, when physical distancing is not possible. Physical distancing is always preferable to the use of barriers.

Support for Workers

In a section of the Instructions titled “Support for Workers,” the Instructions require employers to ensure that all employees are aware of income replacement and workplace-related benefits to which they are entitled if they have to isolate due to COVID-19 symptoms, are being tested for COVID-19, or are in close contact with someone with COVID-19.  The purpose of this requirement is to encourage forthright reporting of COVID-19 symptoms or contact.  The Instructions define a “worker” as “any employee, independent contractor, manager, director, officer, owner, partner, shareholder, volunteer, student or any other person engaged in the business or organization’s activity at the workplace.”

Public Reporting of Workplace Outbreaks

Finally, in a News Release dated January 4, 2021, TPH indicated that as of January 7, 2021, workplace outbreaks will be published weekly where there is:

  • evidence of sustained transmission of COVID-19 in the workplace;
  • a significant proportion of staff have been involved in the outbreak;
  • significant duration of the outbreak and the approximate time for a positive case to generate a second and third positive case, or cases; and
  • the workplace is large enough that risk of privacy concerns are mitigated.

The news release identifies nine categories of workplaces subject to the weekly disclosure, including grocery stores, pharmacies, malls, food processing plants, offices, warehouses, and manufacturing settings.  In addition, the list includes “other workplaces and community settings not captured in these categories.” 

Bottom Line for Employers

As the Instructions are effective immediately, Toronto employers should waste no time in making themselves familiar with them and ensuring their compliance with them.  

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.