On Tuesday, April 20, Toronto and Peel Region introduced new orders under the Health Protection and Promotion Act, impacting most physical workplaces operating in those regions. Under the orders—subject to a limited number of exceptions—physical workplaces that report five or more laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases within a period of 14 calendar days may be ordered to close their physical workplaces for at least 10 days. In this update, we provide an overview of the applicable rules and exceptions for both regions.
The Regional Municipality of Peel includes major cities such as Mississauga, Brampton, and the Town of Caledon. On April 20, it issued an order under the Health Protection and Promotion Act, imposing a number of duties on “owners or occupiers of a workplace premises or persons responsible for a business or organization.” The rules under the order will take effect on Friday, April 23, at 12:01 a.m.
When must workplaces temporarily close their physical premises?
Physical workplaces (i.e., not remote workplaces) in the Region of Peel’s geographic area may be ordered to temporarily close by Peel Public Health for at least 10 days where:
- the workplace premises has had five or more laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19;
- the cases have occurred within the previous 14-calendar-day period,
- the cases could reasonably have acquired their infection in the workplaces premises; or
- where no obvious source of infection has been identified outside of the workplace premises.
Where these conditions are met, Peel Public Health has authority to issue a notice directing the workplace to close all or parts of the physical workplace premises. In the order, Peel Public Health also reserves the right to require that workplaces take additional interventions as are necessary in the circumstances.
Which workplaces are exempt from closing their physical premises?
The order does not apply to all workplaces. Nothing in the order precludes workplaces from operating remotely (even where workers report cases of COVID-19) because the idea behind the order is to prevent in-person transmission at the physical workplace.
Section 6 of the order lists a number of workplaces specifically exempt from closures relating to COVID 19 outbreaks for five or more infections in the workplace:
- Healthcare facilities, including vaccination clinics
- First responder emergency services such as fire, paramedics, police and their communication services
- Critical infrastructure such as water/wastewater treatment facilities, utilities, telecommunications and IT, transportation, and energy
- Government services
- Services required to maintain the health of animals
- Other workplace premises exempted from closure by Peel Public Health
Moreover, even where a physical workplace is ordered to close, the order allows “access” to the workplace under limited circumstances, notably for dealing with “critical matters” that cannot be attended to remotely or for accessing goods or supplies.
Other obligations imposed on workplaces with fewer than five cases of COVID-19
The order also imposes duties on physical workplaces that report two or more cases of COVID-19 within a 14 calendar-day period:
Where workplaces report two or more cases, they must take the following measures:
- Prepare a list of close contacts of these persons and provide the list to Peel Public Health, when requested;
- Maintain a log of all persons who attend on the workplace premises and make this log available if requested by Peel Public Health for contact tracing purposes;
- Notify the Ontario Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development and Workplace Safety and Insurance Board or other relevant governmental authorities;
- Provide contact details of the most senior decision-maker at the workplace premises;
- Be readily available for contact by Peel Public Health to implement any additional measures immediately as required by Peel Public Health; and,
- Cooperate with infection prevention and control personnel from Peel Public Health.
Where a workplace receives notice from Peel Public Health requiring all or parts of the workplace to close, the owners or occupiers of the workplace premises, or persons responsible for the organization, must communicate certain instructions to all workers impacted by the closure. These instructions are specifically set out in the order:
- COVID-19-positive workers must self-isolate per the region’s February 24 order
- Non-symptomatic workers in a workplace ordered to close must self-isolate for 10 calendar days, or for as long as the workplace is ordered to close
- Workers of a closed workplace cannot work at another workplace during isolation
- Symptomatic workers should be tested as soon as possible from symptoms
- Workers who test positive for COVID-19 should notify their employers immediately
- Non-symptomatic workers should be encouraged to be tested regardless
Where a physical workplace is ordered to close following five or more confirmed cases, the public health notice ordering the closure must be posted at entrances.
Toronto Public Health Region
Like Ontario’s Peel Region, the City of Toronto Health Unit issued a workplace order under the Health Protection and Promotion Act that will take effect Friday, April 23, at 12:01 a.m. With limited exceptions, the order applies to all persons who own, operate, or occupy a workplace in Toronto, as well as workers in those workplaces. Also like in Peel Region, “workplace” means a physical location not work done remotely.
The Toronto order is similar to the order issued in Peel Region, and gives Toronto Public Health the authority to require workplaces to close for at least 10 calendar days where:
- the workplace has five or more confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19; and
- the cases have occurred within a 14-calendar-day period.
The Toronto order is slightly broader than the Peel Region order because it includes both “confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19,” while the Peel Region order refers only to “laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases.” “Probable” is not defined.
Like in Peel Region, where the conditions under the Toronto order are met, Toronto Public Health may, in its judgment, issue a notice requiring all or parts of the workplace to close for at least 10 days. Toronto Public Health decides when a closure is needed.
Other obligations imposed on workplaces with cases of COVID-19
The Toronto order imposes other obligations on workplaces:
- Owners, operators, or occupiers must notify Toronto Public Health via the online COVID-19 Workplace Reporting Tool as soon as they become aware of:
- two or more individuals who test positive for COVID-19 within a 14-calendar-day period; and
- five or more individuals who test positive for COVID-19 within a 14-calendar-day period.
- Owners, operators, or occupiers must post signage, in a form provided by Toronto Public Health, at all entrances where the workplace is ordered to fully close, indicating the workplace is closed.
Which workplaces are exempt from closures?
The Toronto order does not apply to all workplaces. Nothing in the order precludes workplaces from operating remotely and the following workplaces may be exempt:
- first responder emergency services such as fire, paramedics, police and their communication services
- critical infrastructure such as water/wastewater treatment facilities, utilities, telecommunications and IT, transportation, and energy
- public-facing or other critical government services
- services required to maintain the health of animals
- other workplaces as determined by Toronto Public Health for reasons of health, safety or otherwise where in the public interest
- Physical workplaces in Peel Region and Toronto may be ordered to close for at least 10 calendar days where the workplace reports five or more confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the previous 14-calendar-day period
- Peel Public Health and Toronto Public Health make closure decisions and, where a closure is ordered, will communicate the terms of the closure with the workplace
- A workplace closure does not preclude a business from operating remotely
- Physical workplaces reporting two or more confirmed cases of COVID-19 must satisfy certain reporting obligations. Where a physical workplace is ordered to close following five or more confirmed cases, the public health notice ordering the closure must be posted at entrances.