On April 8, 2021, in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the third wave and presence of variants currently affecting the province, the Ontario government launched a series of zero-tolerance workplace safety inspections in sectors and regions hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, beginning on April 9, 2021.
Increased Investigations Announced
The announced investigations will target warehouses, food processors and manufacturers in the Peel and Halton Regions. As of April 9th, officers will be checking for compliance with COVID-19 health and safety requirements under the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, 2020 to ensure appropriate physical distancing, screening, and masking.
Increased inspections and enforcement across the province will also include:
- Enhanced education and outreach to the construction sector, a robust and expanding program for rapid antigen screening for COVID-19 in construction, along with a zero-tolerance approach to enforcement of COVID-19 safety requirements on construction projects.
- Continued risk-based inspections of farms employing temporary foreign workers, including working closely with Service Canada and local public health units to coordinate inspections and share information.
Additionally, beginning on April 10, 2021, a multi-ministry team of provincial offences officers was deployed to the Peel and Halton Regions to carry out a campaign in retail outlets that are permitted to be open, including big-box stores. These inspections will focus on enforcing the COVID-19 safety requirements and violations.
Officers will also be helping retailers understand the new requirements under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, to bring them into compliance, including the selling of only essential items. The government will work with local enforcement personnel to enforce and bring retailers into compliance where necessary.
Penalties for Violations Include Fines of Up to $10 Million
It has been announced that violations could result in fines up to $750 for individuals and $1,000 for businesses.
If a violation is more serious, a person can be charged with failing to comply with an order under the Acts. If convicted, the court can impose fines as high as $100,000 for individuals, and directors and officers of a corporation can be fined up to $500,000. Both could also receive terms of imprisonment of up to one year. The maximum fine for a corporation on conviction of an offence is up to $10 million.
Investigations Ordered to Better Protect Workers
In the announcement, the Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development stated:
“With more contagious variants identified in many parts of the province, it has never been more important that businesses have the appropriate health and safety protocols in place to stop the spread of COVID-19.
We will have zero tolerance for those bad actors who break safety requirements as it puts the lives of workers and the public at risk. Our officers will not hesitate to issue tickets to those not following the rules.”
The province also noted that, since the beginning of 2021, occupational health and safety inspectors and multi-ministry teams of provincial offences officers have conducted more than 19,500 COVID-related workplace inspections and investigations across the province. During those visits, they’ve issued over 15,000 orders and over 450 COVID-19 related tickets, and stopped unsafe work related to COVID-19 a total of 24 times.
There are many circumstances mandating an investigation of workplace issues, including safety issues. Employees should be aware that employers are obligated to conduct investigations in certain circumstances, and should understand the basic ins and outs of such investigations.
If you are an employee who wishes to file a complaint, or if you are an employee facing an investigation, you are well advised to seek advice from a knowledgeable employment lawyer.
If you have questions about workplace investigations, contact the offices of Guelph employment lawyer Peter McSherry. We regularly advise employees on their rights in the workplace.. Contact us online or by phone at 519-821-5465 to schedule a consultation.