Ontario Enters Roadmap Exit Step, Removes Proof of Vaccination Requirement
Date: February 28, 2022
As announced by the Ontario government earlier this month, public health restrictions imposed in light of COVID-19 will be substantially eased on March 1, 2022. On that date, all regions in Ontario will be moved into the Roadmap Exit Step of the province’s Reopening Plan and almost all public health restrictions will be removed. Notably, the Roadmap Exit Step does not have a requirement that persons must provide proof of vaccination in order to gain access to any business or organization.
These changes were accomplished by the filing of two new regulations on February 25, 2022. Ontario Regulation 99/22 amended the rules for the Roadmap Exit Step, which are found in O. Reg. 364/20, Rules for Areas at Step 3 and at the Roadmap Exit Step, while Ontario Regulation 100/22 amended O. Reg. 363/20, Steps of Reopening. All of these regulations are made under the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, 2020 (Act).
In this FTR Now, we briefly outline the public health restrictions that will remain in effect in the Roadmap Exit Step. The restrictions are subject to the ongoing authority of the Chief Medical Officer of Health and local medical officers of health who can issue a range of instructions and recommendations that businesses and organizations would be required to follow.
The Rules at the Roadmap Exit Step
While there are few public health restrictions that will apply at the Roadmap Exit Step, the regulations confirm that if a business or organization does not comply with the requirements that are in effect, they cannot open. Temporary access to the business or organization would be permitted for limited purposes only.
Persons responsible for a business or organization that is open must ensure that they operate in compliance with all applicable laws, including the Occupational Health and Safety Act and its regulations.
The business or organization must also operate in compliance with any advice, recommendations and instructions issued by the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health. This specifically includes any advice, recommendations and instructions on the following:
(a) physical distancing, cleaning or disinfecting,
(b) requiring the business or organization to establish, implement and ensure compliance with a COVID-19 vaccination policy,
(c) setting out the precautions and procedures that the business or organization must include in its COVID-19 vaccination policy, or
(d) screening individuals by, among other things, posting signs at all entrances to the premises of the business or organization, in a conspicuous location visible to the public, that inform individuals on how to screen themselves for COVID-19 prior to entering the premises.
In addition, businesses and organizations must comply with any advice, recommendations and instructions issued by a local public health official under the Act before February 25, 2022, but not the previous advice, recommendations and instructions issued by local public health officials in relation to COVID-19 vaccination policies (as set out in paragraphs (b) or (c) above).
Masking and Screening Requirements
Current masking requirements continue to apply in the Roadmap Exit Step. Businesses or organizations must ensure that any person in the indoor area of the premises of the business or organization, or in a vehicle that is operating as part of the business or organization, wears a mask or face covering in a manner that covers their mouth, nose and chin. This requirement continues to be subject to a range of exceptions, such as where accommodation is required under the Human Rights Code. As is currently the case, there is no obligation for a person to present evidence to the person responsible for a business or place that they are entitled to a prescribed exception to the masking requirement.
Individuals who are on the premises also have an obligation to wear a mask or face covering while they are in an indoor area of the premises, subject to any prescribed exceptions.
Businesses and organizations will have some limited ongoing screening obligations, including the posting requirement described above in point (d) in the General Compliance section. This is reinforced by the ongoing safety plan requirements discussed in the next section.
The Roadmap Exit Step requires persons responsible for a business that is open to prepare and make available a safety plan no later than seven days after the requirement first applies to the person. The safety plan must describe the measures and procedures which have been implemented or will be implemented in the business to reduce the transmission risk of COVID-19 and how the requirements of the Roadmap Exit Step will be implemented in the location, including by screening and the wearing of masks or face coverings. The safety plan must be in writing, made available to any person for review upon request, and must be posted in a conspicuous location.
More comprehensive safety plans were required under the Rules for Areas in Step 2 and Step 3, so most employers should already have a plan in place which contains these details.
Long-Term Care Homes
Directives, policies or guidance issued by the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, the Minister of Long-Term Care or the Ministry of Long-Term Care that apply to a long-term care home within the meaning of the Long-Term Care Homes Act, 2007 continue to apply, despite anything in set out in the Roadmap Exit Step.
Specific Rules at the Roadmap Exit Step
Camps for Children
Day camps and camps that provide supervised overnight accommodation for children may open if they operate in accordance with the applicable safety guidelines for COVID-19 issued by the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health.
Schools and Private Schools
Schools and private schools within the meaning of the Education Act may continue to open if they are operated in accordance with a return to school direction issued by the Ministry of Education and approved by the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health. These requirements do not apply to schools operated by a band, band council of the federal Crown (or an authorized education authority of one of these entities) or by an entity that participates in the Anishinabek Education System.
Cannabis Retail Stores
Authorized cannabis retail stores may open if they provide products to patrons through in-person sales or through an alternative method of sale, such as curbside pick-up or delivery.
With the implementation of these changes on March 1, businesses and organizations will have greater flexibility to operate and with fewer mandated restrictions. However, some restrictions will remain in effect and there are still some unknowns that must be considered. One of the bigger unknowns is what advice, instructions or recommendations will be maintained by the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health after March 1.
As an example, at the time of writing it is not known whether any of the previous instructions issued by the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health with regard to vaccination policies in a range of sectors will remain in effect in their current form or at all. If those instructions are revised or withdrawn, employers will need to consider what impact that might have on their own vaccination policies.
Businesses and organizations will need to look out for other potential COVID-19-related developments. For example, as restrictions are lifted, will the government bring an end to the protections against termination and severance of employment it has temporarily enacted under the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA) – e.g. deemed infectious disease emergency leave and protections against constructive dismissal claims under the ESA (currently scheduled to remain in effect until July 30, 2022)?
Additionally, businesses and organizations will need to consider their obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act as they adapt to the new circumstances. This could include, for example, whether to continue to impose COVID-19-related restrictions on their employees after the changes take effect.
We will monitor and report on developments that impact employers as the government continues to loosen COVID-19 restrictions on businesses and organizations.
If you have any questions in relation to these developments, please contact your regular Hicks Morley lawyer.
The article in this client update provides general information and should not be relied on as legal advice or opinion. This publication is copyrighted by Hicks Morley Hamilton Stewart Storie LLP and may not be photocopied or reproduced in any form, in whole or in part, without the express permission of Hicks Morley Hamilton Stewart Storie LLP. ©