Toronto Stage 3 Reopening: Information for Employees

Toronto and Peel Region moved to Stage 3 of Ontario’s reopening plan today, July 31, 2020. Stage 3 aims to get employees back to their physical work location to begin the path to economic recovery. Read on to learn more about what to do if you have concerns about going back into work and what your rights are as an employee.

Nearly all businesses and public spaces will be able to reopen in Stage 3 with public health and workplace safety restrictions in place. Everyone must continue to be vigilant and follow public health advice and workplace safety guidelines. Physical distancing remains a requirement for all people who are not from the same household or social circle.

Some high-risk venues and activities, however, will remain closed until they can safely resume operations. The following high-risk places and activities are confirmed unsafe to open at this time by the Chief Medical Officer of Health, public health experts and other officials:

  • Amusement and water parks
  • Buffet-style food services
  • Dancing at restaurants and bars, other than hired performers
  • Overnight stays at camps for children
  • Private karaoke rooms
  • Prolonged-contact sports activities
  • Saunas, steam rooms, bathhouses, and oxygen bars
  • Table games at casinos and gaming establishments.

Read more: A Framework for Reopening our Province: Stage 3

Five Considerations For Employees Returning to Work

During Stage 3, many employees will be anxious about returning to the workplace. Monkhouse Law has created a helpful infographic guide for employers on how to make the return to work decision. 

Here are five important questions employees should take into consideration while trying to decide whether or not to go back to work:

  1. Can you still work from home?
  2. Are you a vulnerable person and cannot work from home?
  3. Do you want to return to work?
  4. Are you unable to return to work because you have children and/or care for a vulnerable person? 
  5. Are you fearful of a work danger?

Read on to find out more about these questions from an employment law perspective.

1. Can you still work from home?

As restrictions are eased and the province gradually reopens, businesses are still strongly encouraged to continue to allow employees to work remotely whenever possible to contain the spread of COVID-19. 

“If you are unable to do your work from home, Ontario has released safety guidelines to protect you and the general public from COVID-19, which have been divided into recommendations based on job sectors.”

With the inevitable return of more workers to the workplace during Stage 3, government resources are available to employers to help keep you safe. Employers may consider limiting the number of employees in the office or have a prolonged return to work plan, for example.

2. Are you a vulnerable person and cannot work from home?

Are you wondering if you can be required to return to the workplace as a vulnerable person? The answer may be more complicated than you think.

“If you are medically required to stay away from your workplace, and you are not able to work from home, you may be able to remain at home.”

The Ontario Human Rights Code requires that employers accommodate employees’ reasonable needs for accommodation based on protected grounds, including disability, to the point of undue hardship. Generally, the employee does not need to be paid for time off work.

3. Do you want to return to work? 

From concerns about childcare and public transportation to employees’ general anxieties about COVID-19 and the risk of infection, many employees are worried about returning to work.

“Refusing to return to work based on fear may constitute an unreasonable refusal to return to work. If you have not indicated a reasonable reason that you should remain home and your employer is abiding by government guidelines, you may have to return to work.”

Conversely, if your employer is refusing to accommodate your return to work, is insisting on your return with a pay cut or other significant change to previous working conditions, punishes or reprises you for requesting accommodation, or otherwise, you should consult an employment lawyer.

4. Are you unable to return to work because you have children and/or care for a vulnerable person? 

If you have children and/or care for a vulnerable person, you should communicate with your employer to be accommodated. It is important that you communicate your accommodation needs to your employer and provide medical documentation where relevant.

“The Human Rights Code accommodates workers to the point of undue hardship if your inability to come to work can be supported factually or medically.”

You cannot be discriminated against based on family status or disability. If you cannot come to work, certain protected leaves in the Employment Standards Act, 2000 may be considered.

5. Are you fearful of potential contagion?  

Generally, the perceived danger of returning to work or fear of contagion is not enough to remain home.

“It is vital for employers and employees to work together during this time. Employees should communicate their accommodation needs, and employers should abide by government guidelines and occupational health and safety obligations. Effective communication is critical and will help put everyone’s mind at ease.”

It is important to note that disciplinary action can be taken when an employee refuses to return to work unreasonably. However, if your stress and anxiety make you unable to work, then you may be able to go on a medically supported leave of absence and consider disability benefits if available.

How Your Employer Can Help

The Ontario government is recommending that workplaces and businesses develop a COVID-19 safety plan, to help keep employees and workplaces safe, including:

  1. Enabling physical distancing by redesigning spaces/interactions and implementing flow management.
  2. Cleaning and disinfecting equipment and high-touch surfaces as frequently as is necessary to maintain a sanitary environment.
  3. Consider recording each patron’s name and contact information to support effective contact tracing that helps keep everyone safe.
  4. Consider requiring all customers to book an appointment in advance, wherever possible, for the purposes of physical distancing, flow management and contract tracing.
  5. Assigning seating or spaces where possible to ensure physical distancing.

Sector-specific workplace safety guidelines and tips available at Ontario.ca/COVIDsafety

This article was written by Monkhouse Law, an employment law firm in Toronto. We are ready to help you prepare to return to work safely. If you have concerns about your workplace or do not feel your requests for fair workplace accommodations are being met, we offer a free 30-minute consultation.

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