group of employees

From 2 to 3: Ontario employers, Stage 3 has (for the most part) arrived

Publication July 21, 2020 - 2 PM ET

In Canada, Statistics Canada reports that nearly 1 million more people were employed in June, a 6% increase from May. It was also reported that in June, approximately 167,000 fewer people were unemployed in Canada, representing a 6% decrease compared to May. Indeed, jurisdictions across the country, including Ontario, have continued to ease restrictions, namely for employers and service providers. 

In Ontario, though the province remains under a state of emergency due to COVID-19, many employers have gradually begun to welcome returning employees back to the physical workplace since the Stage 1, which came in effect on May 19. On June 12, the province moved to Stage 2. And, very recently on July 17, Ontario entered Stage 3, meaning many employers unable to previously welcome employees back to the physical workplace can now do so. 

What does Stage 3 mean in Ontario?

In Stage 3, nearly all businesses and public spaces can reopen, except for certain high-risk venues and activities, including:

  • Amusement parks and water parks
  • Buffet-style food services
  • Dancing at restaurants and bars, other than by performers hired by the establishment following specific requirements
  • Overnight stays at camps for children
  • Private karaoke rooms
  • Prolonged or deliberate contact while playing sports
  • Saunas, steam rooms, bath houses and oxygen bars
  • Table games at casinos and gaming establishments

Generally, all other businesses and public spaces have been permitted to open and welcome employees back to the physical workplace, subject to certain health and safety measures, as well as limits on gathering sizes. These include:

  • As part of the Stage 3, restrictions have been increased to (i) 50 people for indoor gatherings; and (ii) 100 people for outdoor gatherings. 
  • These restrictions apply to indoor and outdoor events, such as community events or gatherings, concerts, live shows, festivals, conferences, sports and recreational fitness activities, fundraisers, fairs, festivals or open houses. 
  • A two-metre distance must be maintained at such events.
  • It is important to note that work colleagues do not count toward gathering limits. 

In addition, based on community needs, medical officers of health of certain public health units have exercised their authority for heightened restrictions or requirements, such as mandatory face coverings in some commercial establishments or indoor public spaces. To find out more about mandatory mask orders and if they apply to your business, please click here.  

To see the complete framework of the province’s graduation to Stage 3, please click here.  

For government resources on how to return to work safely, please click here.

Who does Stage 3 apply to? 

Most of Ontario’s 34 public health units moved into Stage 3 on July 17, with the exception of the Greater Toronto Area and some parts of southern Ontario. 

The public health units permitted to move into Stage 3 include:  

  • Algoma Public Health
  • Brant County Health Unit
  • Chatham-Kent Public Health
  • Eastern Ontario Health Unit
  • Grey Bruce Health Unit
  • Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit
  • Hastings Prince Edward Public Health
  • Huron Perth Public Health
  • Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington Public Health
  • Leeds Grenville & Lanark District Health Unit
  • Middlesex-London Health Unit
  • North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit
  • Northwestern Health Unit
  • Ottawa Public Health
  • Peterborough Public Health
  • Porcupine Health Unit
  • Public Health Sudbury & Districts
  • Region of Waterloo Public Health and Emergency Services
  • Renfrew County and District Health Unit
  • Simcoe-Muskoka District Health Unit
  • Southwestern Public Health
  • Thunder Bay District Health Unit
  • Timiskaming Health Unit
  • Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health

Public health units permitted to move into Stage 3 on July 24 include: 

  • Durham Region Health Department
  • Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit
  • Halton Region Public Health
  • Hamilton Public Health Services
  • Lambton Public Health
  • Niagara Region Public Health
  • York Region Public Health

The public health units remaining in Stage 2 at this time include:

  • Peel Public Health
  • Toronto Public Health
  • Windsor-Essex County Health Unit

What special obligations apply to certain businesses?

According to provincial regulations under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, rules for businesses and obligations for employers under Stage 3 are generally divided by industry and activity. Examples of obligations for specific industries and activities are listed below. However, it is important to note that regardless of the activity or  industry, caution and prudence should be heightened during this time. 

To see the full list of Stage 3 rules per sector, click here

Restaurants and Bars

Restaurants, bars, food trucks, concession stands and other food or drink establishments may open if they comply with the following conditions:

  • No buffet-style service may be provided
  • Patrons must be seated when eating or drinking at the establishment
  • The establishment must be configured so patrons seated at different tables are separated by at least two metres, or plexiglass or some other impermeable barrier
  • No person shall dance, sing or perform music at the establishment except in accordance with certain regulations

Gyms and Sports Facilities

Facilities for sports and recreational fitness activities, including gymnasiums, yoga and dance studios and other fitness facilities, may open if they comply with the following conditions:

  • Every person who engages in sports or a recreational fitness activity at the facility, other than a team sport, must maintain a physical distance of at least two metres from every other person at all times during the activity
  • The total number of members of the public permitted to be at the facility in a class, organized program or organized activity at any one time must be limited to the number that can maintain a physical distance of at least two metres from other persons in the facility, and in any event cannot exceed:
    • 50 persons, if any of the classes, organized programs or organized activities taking place at the time are indoors, or
    • 100 persons, if all of the classes, organized programs or organized activities taking place at the time are outdoors

Cinemas

Cinemas may open if the total number of members of the public permitted to be in the venue at any one time is limited to the number that can maintain a physical distance of at least two metres from every other person in the venue, and in any event is not permitted to exceed,

  • 50 persons, if the cinema is indoors; or
  • 100 persons, if the cinema is outdoors

Child Care Options

Daycare centres and home child care providers in the province have been operational with strict safety requirements in place. One of those requirements is a 10-children cap per cohort. 

However, beginning on July 27, child care centres will be permitted to operate with cohorts of 15 children. This change will bring the child care sector to approximately 90% of its operating capacity, allowing more parents to return to work in some cases.

Take-aways

The coming in effect of Stage 3 is, for the most part, encouraging news for many employers and service providers throughout the province. However, it is important to note that any of the above-noted measures may be subject to future change or extensions. 

Indeed, Ontario has recently introduced legislation that, if passed, would allow the Lieutenant Governor in Council to continue COVID-19-related orders made under sections 7.0.2 and 7.1 of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act for additional periods of up to 30 days, and thereafter extend such orders for periods of up to 30 days. Currently, Bill 195, Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, 2020 is at second reading. It passed first reading on July 7. 

As many Ontarians remain hopeful that some sense of normality will soon be restored in daily lives, it is vital that health and safety risks, including warnings of the possibility of a second wave in the fall, remain central throughout the summer.  

The author wishes to thank summer student Colleen Dermody for her help in preparing this legal update. 



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