The workplace situation continues to evolve in Ontario as employers look to gear up for a return to normalcy. Here are the latest developments that determine how our return to work will be affected by COVID-19:
Ontario considers granting “good faith” immunity from COVID-19 lawsuits
We had written recently about the fact that, notwithstanding any amendments to the ESA, employers may still have liability when laying off employees due to COVID-19. The Ontario government has recognized this, and is considering enacting legislation that will grant civil immunity to employers (and others) acting in “good faith” in response to COVID-19. Employers and employees should stay aware of how this immunity, if granted, might affect the right to claim wrongful dismissal.
Ministry of Labour has started to issue stop-work orders related to COVID-19.
It would appear that the existing provisions of the Occupational Health and Safety Act have already been interpreted to impose certain safety measures and, inspectors from the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development have inspected 10,716 workplaces as of mid-June. They have issued 6,405 orders, including 23 stop-work orders, related to COVID-19. This means that, contrary to the Minsitry’s initially cautious approach towards work refusals, certain work refusals related to COVID-19 will be justified. The circumstances of these stop-work orders are not yet publicly available.
Ontario publishes a guide on How to Develop a Workplace Safety Plan
In anticipation of the droves of apprehensive employees returning to the workplace, and increasing uncertainty over what is safe versus unsafe, Ontario has developed a guide for employers on how to develop a “workplace safety plan”. So far, the guide is not written into the law. However, Employers can reasonably anticipate seeing some lasting infectious disease protections built into the Occupational Health and Safety Act, and these advisories are likely to represent the government’s starting point.
To be best prepared for the likelihood that the law will change, employers would be well-advised to follow the government’s recommendations.
Emergency orders extended to June 30
The state of emergency has been extended to June 30, 2019 – and with it, all the special Employment Standards Act (“ESA”) rules enacted in relation to COVID-19, including infectious disease emergency leave, rules around constructive dismissal and temporary layoffs.
This week, the government tabled a motion to extend the state of emergency until July 15, 2020. There is no word yet on how long this week-by-week pattern of emergency extension will continue. However, based on the rapidly decreasing number of new infections in Ontario, the light seems to be visible at the end of the tunnel.
- Limitation periods and judicial proceeding timelines extended to September 11, 2020
The Ontario government extended the order under Subsection 7.1 (2) of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act until September 11, 2020. That order suspends all limitation periods and, unless the court or tribunal orders otherwise, extends the timeline to take all steps in a legal proceeding. Courts are expected to grant parties significant leeway in meeting procedural deadlines. In contrast to this approach, parties are generally expected to abide by procedural deadlines before the Ontario Labour Relations Board and the Human Rights Tribunal.
Contact Hyde HR Law today for advice on these and other employment law matters.