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.
On November 19, 2020, Ontario announced it had launched “inspection blitzes” to help stop the transmission of COVID-19 and keep workers safe. The inspections involve the deployment of provincial offences officers from various Ministries to strategic locations where they conduct education and enforcement campaigns ranging from days to several weeks. Developed in consultation with local health units, the campaigns’ purpose is to ensure businesses are taking the steps needed to keep employees, consumers and the public safe.
During inspections, business owners are provided information and guidance on how to operate safely in compliance with public health requirements under the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, 2020 (Reopening Ontario Act). They are also required to produce their workplace safety plans to inspectors, who will provide feedback.
Location of campaigns
On the date of the announcement, three education and enforcement campaigns had occurred in almost 1,000 workplaces in the province. There were no tickets issued and any contraventions discovered were resolved “with compliance assistance.”
Ontario’s November 19 announcement indicates that a campaign in the Peel Region on November 6-7, 2020, focused on supermarkets, big-box stores, and shopping malls. Upon inspection by provincial offences officers and by-law officers of 330 retail establishments, it was determined that 82% of the businesses were compliant with public health requirements under the Reopening Ontario Act.
On the date of the announcement, a campaign was in process in the Waterloo Region, and there were plans in place for additional campaigns in other communities including Eastern Ontario, York Region, Ottawa, and Toronto.
Fines and imprisonment for non-compliance
Under the Reopening Ontario Act, persons or businesses may be ticketed with a fine of $750 for non-compliance with the statute.
Where a prosecution is begun without the issuance of a ticket (i.e., by way of an Information1) and on conviction, fines may be issued of up to $100,000 for individuals, and up to $500,000 for directors and corporate officers.
If convicted of an offence under the Reopening Ontario Act, an individual could receive up to a one-year prison term; a corporation can be fined up to $10,000,000.
COVID-19 safety plan
We wrote about the new COVID-19 Response Framework, Keeping Ontario Safe and Open (New Framework), here. The New Framework categorizes public health unit regions into the following five levels: Green – Prevent (Standard Measures); Yellow – Protect (Strengthened Measures); Orange – Restrict (Intermediate Measures); Red – Control (Stringent Measures); and Lockdown (Maximum Measures).
The following businesses and establishments in the Yellow-Protect, Orange-Restrict, Red-Control, and Lockdown levels, including those currently in operation and those planning to start up, must develop a written COVID-19 safety plan and make it available for review upon inspection: restaurants, bars, and food or drink establishments; sports and recreational facilities; meeting and event spaces; malls; personal care services; casinos, bingo halls, and other gaming establishments; cinemas; and performing arts facilities. Current public health and workplace health and safety information or guidance may be used to help develop the safety plans, which must be posted in a conspicuous place and describe measures and procedures implemented to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, and how the measures will be implemented (screening, physical distancing, masks or face coverings, cleaning and disinfection of surfaces and objects, and wearing PPE). Ontario provides detailed information about employers should develop a COVID-19 safety plan here.
Bottom Line for Employers
Employers in Ontario are encouraged to operate safely in compliance with public health requirements under the Reopening Ontario Act and with any other requirements. Not only will such compliance help enable employers to keep everyone safe during the pandemic, it will also enable them to receive positive feedback should they be inspected by a provincial inspections officer. Furthermore, employers that are required to develop a safety plan are encouraged to do so in accordance with the requirements established by the province.
1 In Ontario, a person has the right to have criminal process issued from a Justice of the Peace by swearing an Information alleging reasonable and probable grounds that another person committed a criminal act.