Ontario Orders More Business Closures in Light of COVID-19 Pandemic; Clarifies Obligations of Businesses that Remain Open
Date: April 3, 2020
On April 3, 2020, the Ontario government announced that more businesses must close because they are no longer considered essential in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. These businesses must close effective tomorrow, Saturday April 4, 2020 at 11:59 p.m.
By Order in Council made under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, the government had ordered the closure of all non-essential places of business within Ontario effective March 24, 2020, but had designated a list of essential business that could remain open after that date.
By order today, the government has revised its original list in light of the government’s ongoing concern about the lack of containment of COVID-19. In addition, the government added a new Schedule to the existing closure Order outlining the obligations of businesses that are permitted to remain open.
Some notable changes to the list of essential businesses include:
The government announced that non-critical construction work and services, including demolition services, in the industrial, commercial, institutional and residential sectors must cease operations at 11:59 p.m. on April 4, subject to only limited exceptions.
Construction projects and services that may continue beyond April 4 at 11:59 p.m. include:
- those associated with the healthcare sector, including new facilities, expansions, renovations and conversion of spaces that could be repurposed for healthcare spaces
- those required to ensure safe and reliable operations of, or to provide new capacity in, critical provincial infrastructure, including transit, transportation, energy and justice sectors beyond the day-to-day maintenance
- critical industrial construction activities required for:
- the maintenance and operations of petrochemical plants and refineries,
- significant industrial petrochemical projects where preliminary work has already commenced,
- industrial construction and modifications to existing industrial structures limited solely to work necessary for the production, maintenance, and/or enhancement of Personal Protective Equipment, medical devices (such as ventilators), and other identified products directly related to combatting the COVID-19 pandemic.
Residential construction is also impacted, and projects, including renovation projects, must have progressed beyond a certain specified point to be permitted to continue.
Also permitted are construction and maintenance activities which are necessary to temporarily close construction sites that have paused or are not active and to ensure ongoing public safety.
Retail and Services
The revised list of essential businesses will also place further limits on retail and other services, and some operations that were able to remain open previously must now close.
Retail stores that are permitted to remain open must, to the fullest extent possible, restrict public access to their place of business by providing alternative methods of sale, such as curbside pick-up or delivery. This does not apply to pharmacies and retail stores that primarily sell food and beverages.
In addition, the government has created even more restrictive rules for stores that sell:
- hardware products,
- vehicle parts and supplies,
- pet and animal supplies,
- office supplies and computer products (including computer repair), and
- safety supplies.
These places of business are still designated as essential, however, the public may no longer have access to these stores. Rather, unless exceptional circumstances exist, these stores must provide their items to their customers through an alternative method of sale, such as curbside pick-up or delivery.
Obligations on Businesses that Remain Open
In addition to the rules specific to the retail sector described above, the new Order specifies that persons responsible for a place of business that continues to operate shall:
- operate the business in accordance with all applicable laws including the Occupational Health and Safety Act (and its regulations), and
- operate the business in compliance with all advice, recommendations and instructions of public health officials, including as it relates to physical distancing, cleaning and disinfecting.
The Order now requires persons who provide short-term rentals to only permit rentals booked after April 4, 2020 to individuals in need of housing while the emergency period continues. This does not apply to hotels, motels or student residences.
In addition, the Order prohibits any open house events in the real estate sector.
All employers are encouraged to review the new list of essential businesses very carefully and the accompanying changes to the Order. Depending on the nature of the changes, your business may need to cease operating in whole or in part, or may need to change how the business is operated in order to remain open.
It appears, at least at the present time, that remote work and online business will be permitted to continue.
We are continuing to monitor the rapidly evolving developments in light of COVID-19 and how they may impact your workplace. For further information, please contact your regular Hicks Morley lawyer.
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