On January 27, 2022, the Ontario government published Regulation 25/22, which amends the Rules for Areas in Step 3 and at the Roadmap Exit Step (“Rules for Step 3”) with respect to COVID-19. All of Ontario moved into Step 3 on January 31, 2022, under Regulation 26/22.
The amendments to the Rules for Step 3, as it relates to the workplace, removed the requirement for employers to allow workers to work from home. Other changes include revoking the requirement to record peoples’ contact information when entering specified businesses and reducing capacity limits in public venues.
Employers were previously required, when Ontario temporarily moved to Step 2 on January 5, 2022, to ensure that their employees worked remotely unless they were required to be on-site given the nature of their work.
Come Back to the Office!
Employers who want their workers at the office or in any other location can now require them to do so while keeping in mind their obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. These obligations include assessing the workplace and determining how to best protect the health and safety of their workers. Employers must take all precautions reasonable in the circumstances for working safety, which includes protecting workers from being hurt or getting a work-related illness.
Businesses that are operating must also have a written COVID-19 safety plan. The plan must be made available to anyone who asks to see it and posted in a place where it will easily be seen.
Employers should review the Ontario government’s guidance on COVID-19 and the Occupational Safety Act, as well as the Guide to developing a COVID-19 workplace safety plan.
In addition, employers are still required to screen workers before they enter the workplace.
What if Employees Refuse to Come Back?
Many workers like working remotely and may be reluctant to return. Employers might have concerns about constructive dismissal claims from employees who argue that now, after all this time, working remotely has become a job condition. Each case will need to be assessed on its own facts but employers can keep the following in mind:
- Is the employee entitled to an accommodation regarding remote work due to disability or family duties?
- Were the conditions under which the employer instituted remote work clearly temporary?
- What’s the risk of losing the employee vs the benefit of having them come back to in-person work?
- Could a hybrid arrangement keep everyone happy?
If you have any questions about reopening your workplace, please get in touch for a consultation.