Nov 27, 2020  By John Hyde

COVID-19 – second wave critical updates

The second wave of the pandemic is in full swing, leading to a host of new responses from government officials.  We have covered some of the most important recent developments below.

Federal Announcements

“Stay home”

On November 21, 2020, Theresa Tam, Canada's Chief Public Health Officer, announced that the Public Health Agency of Canada's short-term modeling forecasts a total of between 366,500 and 378,000 cases and 11,870 to 12,120 deaths by November 30th, and stressed that a “stronger response is needed immediately.” 

She urged Canadians to limit close contacts to those in your immediate household and reduce in-person interactions to only essential errands and activities. She stressed avoiding the “three C’s”: closed spaces with poor ventilation, crowded places where many people gather, and close contact situations where you cannot keep two metres apart. This advice applies to most workplaces, which are advised to work remotely where possible.

Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy

As of November 23, 2020, qualifying organizations can apply directly for the new Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS) through the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), without the need to claim assistance from their landlords.

The CERS provides direct support of up to 65 percent of eligible expenses to tenants and property owners for qualifying organizations affected by COVID-19. Eligible expenses include commercial rent, property taxes (including school taxes and municipal taxes), property insurance, and interest on commercial mortgages (subject to limits) for a qualifying property.

Provincial Announcements

The rapid rise in COVID-19 has resulted in a variety of recent governmental responses at the provincial level.

Currently, all employers in Ontario are required to actively screen every worker and essential visitor before they enter the workplace, on a daily basis.

Workplaces are also strongly encouraged to develop a safety plan, specific to their industry and regional COVID-19 guidelines, and to work remotely where possible. Businesses in certain sectors that are in yellow, orange or red zones are required to have a written plan in place and, could be asked to present the workplace safety plan for inspection by an enforcement officer.

Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, 2020 (“ROA”)

The ROA came into force on July 24, 2020, to ensure measures remained in place after the state of emergency declaration came to an end.

It was updated on November 13, 2020, to lower the thresholds for each level in the framework, to determine when businesses would be permitted to open or be mandated to close. 

On November 20, the ROA was extended until December 21, 2020.

There are regional measures implemented within Ontario; currently, different regions have different COVID-19 levels, even within the GTA.

As of this writing, the City of Toronto, and Peel Region are in the most restrictive level of the framework - Lockdown (maximum measures).Restaurants, bars and other food and drink establishments in these regions have been ordered to close, as have all facilities for indoor or outdoor sports and recreational fitness (save for professional athletes), personal care services and entertainment. Severe restrictions are in place for almost every other business.

There are harsh restrictions for the retail sector during the upcoming holiday season, as well. Save for the “essentials” (e.g. supermarkets), retail is limited to curbside pickup or delivery. This has understandably caused confusion, as many big-box retailers have been allowed to remain open on account of selling essential items, whereas smaller retailers have been forced to close.

Schools, before and after school programs, and childcare will remain open. Post-secondary schools will remain open for virtual learning with some limited exceptions for training that can only be provided in-person, such as clinical training or training related to a trade. 

Workplaces unsure of their obligations, or considering operating in spite of them, should immediately seek professional advice, as there have already been arrests and charges laid against business owners for failing to comply with the latest measures.

The rules and regulations that workplaces must follow in response to the pandemic are ever evolving, yet remain as important as ever. The lawyers at Hyde HR Law routinely help clients navigate their obligations in a manner sensitive to the practical realities of their business. We would be pleased to assist with any questions you may have regarding your obligations, the rules, and best practices.

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