March 15, 2022by Israel Foulon LLP
The Ontario government and the Chief Medical Officer of Health have announced various changes to Ontario’s approach to the COVID-19 pandemic as the province continues to reopen. The Chief Medical Officer of Health has stated that the province will now need to learn to live with and manage COVID-19 in the long term. Most notably, masks will no longer be mandatory in many indoor public spaces and mandatory vaccination policies will be repealed shortly, as detailed below.
You can review the comprehensive guide published by the Ontario Ministry of Health regarding learning to live with and manage COVID-19 HERE.
March 14, 2022
As of 12:01am on March 14, 2022, the following requirements are lifted:
- mandatory vaccination policies for employees in long-term care homes
- directives requiring unvaccinated workers in hospitals and other high-risk healthcare settings to complete regular rapid testing
- letters of instruction to the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services and the Ministry of Seniors and Accessibility are revoked, meaning that these organizations will no longer be required to have vaccination policies that at the very least require unvaccinated employees to partake in an education course on the benefits of vaccination
Organizations are still permitted to retain their own vaccination policies, and will still be entitled to receive rapid-antigen tests from the government.
March 21, 2022
As of 12:01 am March 21, 2022, the following requirements are lifted:
- masks in schools, restaurants, bars, gyms and movie theatres
- cohorts and on-site symptom screening in schools
- requirements for businesses to have passive screening, and the need to have a COVID-19 safety plan
Masks will still be required while on public-transit, in long-term care and retirement homes, health-care settings, congregate care settings, shelters and jails. Individuals can still choose to wear masks at the above locations even if they are no longer required. Organizations are still permitted to maintain a masking policy even though not legally required. The province will continue to provide rapid-antigen testing and personal protective equipment to schools and businesses. Finally, enhanced cleaning, optimizing air quality, ventilation and absence reporting will continue to be required.
March 28, 2022
As of 12:01am March 28, 2022, the Reopening Ontario Act expires. However, the remaining orders under the Act are extended for 30 days.
April 27, 2022
On April 27, 2022 at 12:01am, masks will no longer be required in any setting, and all remaining orders under the Reopening Ontario Act expire. Moreover, all remaining health-care directives are lifted, including the requirement that all health-care workers who interact with suspected COVID-19 patients wear well-fitted N95 masks. The Ministry of Health will however still direct health-care workers to wear personal protective equipment, including N95 masks. Organizations are still permitted to maintain a masking policy even though not legally required.
Updated COVID-19 Exposure and Isolation Rules
Isolation requirements for non-household close contacts
Isolation will no longer be required. Instead, for 10 days after exposure, close contacts must:
- self-monitor for symptoms
- wear a mask and avoid activities that require removing your mask
- not visit anyone who is at a higher risk for illness (ex. seniors or immune compromised)
- not visit or attend work in highest risk settings (unless previously tested positive in the past 90 days)
Isolation requirements for household close contacts
A household member does not need to self-isolate if they meet any of the following criteria:
- They have previously tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 90 days
- They are 18 years old and up and have received their booster
- They are under 18 years old and are fully vaccinated
Household members who do not meet the above criteria need to self-isolate while the COVID-19 positive case/symptomatic individual is isolating (or for 10 days from last exposure if immunocompromised).
Take Away for Employers
Regardless of the changes to the COVID-19 rules and protocols detailed above, employers are reminded that they are required to comply with the Occupational Health and Safety Act (“OHSA”) and take all reasonable precautions to protect the health and safety of their workers and the workplace. Depending on the particular workplace, this may ultimately include maintaining many elements of their existing vaccination and COVID-19 safety plans, even if these are not specifically required by the provincial government. Employers will need to evaluate and balance their legal obligations under the OHSA, with their desire to return to a pre-pandemic working environment. Employers will also need to be prepared for pushback from any employees who do not support their desire to continue working under such policies.
Each employer will need to determine whether it makes sense to relax their rules and policies based on their specific environment. What is reasonable in one workplace may not be reasonable in another. For example, some workplaces may determine that masking is no longer necessary, while it may make sense for other workplaces to continue this practice. Employers should also consider what impact dropping restrictions will have on efforts to get employees to return to the office. Employees may be hesitant to return to an in-office environment after working remotely for such an extended period, if they feel the workplace is not continuing to take adequate safety precautions. Employers will need to be flexible and continue to adapt and revise their workplace policies as necessary.
Israel Foulon Wong’s Response to COVID-19
Israel Foulon Wong LLP is assessing the situation as it evolves, and is taking all necessary precautions within its workplace. To slow the spread of COVID-19 and for the health of our team and clients, we are continuing to work remotely where possible. However, please be aware that our offices remain open and are fully functioning. In the circumstances, we encourage our clients to contact us by phone and email to the extent possible. Voicemail messages left at our office phone numbers are immediately forwarded via email. All messages will be promptly responded to. We remain steadfast in our commitment to our clients and would be more than happy to assist you with concerns regarding COVID-19 or any other employment or labour matters.