On April 1, 2021, the government of Ontario activated its pandemic “emergency brake,” sending the entire province out of the five-tiered colour-coded framework and into the “shutdown” zone. The province implemented these shutdown zone measures on April 3, 2021, and they will remain effective “for at least four weeks.”

Ontario added another layer of restrictions—a province-wide stay-at-home order under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act—on April 7, 2021. This stay-at-home order, which became effective on April 8, 2021, will also be in place for at least four weeks.

The current mix of restrictions in force largely mirrors those in place when the province was subject to a stay-at-home order in January 2021. This means that employers are required to ensure that work is conducted remotely, unless the work requires the employee to be in the office or facility. However, there are a few key differences between the last provincial shutdown and this one.

Discount and Big Box Stores

The new shutdown restrictions restrict “discount and big box stores” to selling certain “essential items.” This means that goods that can be sold within these stores are limited to “grocery items, pet care supplies, household cleaning supplies, pharmaceutical items, health care items, and personal care items.” Some employers operating these stores are blocking off aisles containing nonessential items with physical barriers. These stores must also limit capacity to 25 percent and only operate from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Safety Supply, Assistive Devices, and Optical Stores

Hardware stores, stores that sell or repair assistive aids and medical supplies (like mobility devices), and “prescription eyewear” stores can only open for customers who schedule an appointment. Further, these stores’ operating hours are reduced from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., and capacity must be limited to 25 percent.

Outdoor Garden Centres and Greenhouses

Outdoor garden centres, plant nurseries, and indoor greenhouses can remain open and allow patrons to visit their stores if capacity is reduced to 25 percent, and operation hours are limited to 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Key Takeaways for Employers

Once again, Ontario’s government is attempting to limit Ontarians’ mobility in an attempt to thwart the spread of the pandemic. The government is specifically requesting that no one travel outside their region, or the province, unless it is necessary. Employers may want to keep the restrictions in mind, as Ontario’s government is also seeking to enforce compliance by increasing workplace inspections. Ontario’s government has warned that during this round of compliance enforcement, it will adopt a “zero-tolerance” approach, hinting at the immediacy of fines for workplaces found not in adherence with current health and safety measures.

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.

Michael C. Comartin is a partner in the Toronto office of Ogletree Deakins.

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


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