Peel to fine employers $5,000 a day for failing to act to stop COVID-19 spread
Peel’s medical officer of health issued an order Saturday that will see employers fined up to $5,000 a day for failing to act to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, while also urging them to pay employees who need to book off sick.
“Spread of COVID-19 in workplaces continues to drive rising case counts in Peel. While most workplaces take great care to protect their employees, some employers continue to disregard the safety of their people and as a result, the Peel community,” said Dr. Lawrence Loh.
He added it’s also time for employers to “put people over profit” and pay their employees who are sick, because people going to work sick so they can meet their expenses is driving transmission of the virus.
“A few days of sick leave are a lot cheaper than uncontrolled spread of COVID-19,” said Loh, adding that he’d prefer to see the province mandate the practice.
Since the beginning of April, Peel Public Health has investigated more than 1,500 potential COVID-19 exposures in workplaces. There were 116 workplace outbreaks between Sept. 1 and Nov. 13.
Outbreaks in Peel have been particularly prevalent in manufacturing and industrial settings, food processing, distribution and transportation.
“We have lots of large workplaces, jobs that can’t be done remotely, and where, if precautions are not being taken — such as on a manufacturing plant line or in a distribution centre, with loading or unloading — if the precautions aren’t being taken, then you have the perfect conditions for COVID-19 to spread and to spread to a lot of people,” said Loh.
He added that while most businesses are complying with existing regulations, some are failing to undertake basic precautions. Invoking Section 22 of the Health Protection and Promotion Act raises the stakes for employers who disregard the rules.
Businesses that fail to address the rules will be issued a summons and will have to appear in court.
“Essentially this gives us a bigger stick,” said Loh.
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He said he took the action because community transmission is high in Peel and the province’s framework is “somewhat silent” on some of the transmission factors in the region, which includes Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon.
The new requirements include:
- preventing employees who are ill from entering the workplace and instructing them to remain in isolation unless they need urgent medical attention;
- implementing all COVID-19 prevention measures outlined in provincial regulations and guidance, including screening, distancing, masks, hand hygiene and infection prevention and control;
- immediately notifying Peel Public Health and the Ministry of Labour, Skills and Development if there are two or more COVID-19 positive employees.
Loh’s action follows on the heels of Toronto medical officer of health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, who also invoked Section 22 this week to impose more restrictions on bars, restaurants and gyms in Toronto than those imposed by the province.
A spokesperson for Toronto Public Health said Saturday that the composition of workplaces within the city is such that there have been outbreaks in a wide variety of sectors, including hospitals, long-term care and hospitality, that have varied over time.
“Toronto Public Health is currently examining how best to publicly share details of COVID-19 outbreaks in the community, including in workplaces.”
Toronto also announced on Saturday that it has launched an ad campaign to target residents ages 18-40, who may be suffering from COVID-19 fatigue and who “may have lost the sense of pandemic urgency.”
The campaign features taglines that include: “This is not the plague I ordered. I wanted zombies.”
The campaign runs until the end of December and will appear on social media, transit shelters, Spotify and radio.
“I know we’re all tired and want to be through with COVID-19, but this virus isn’t through with us,” said Coun. Joe Cressy (Ward 10 Spadina Fort-York).
Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott reported 1,581 new cases of COVID-19 in the province Saturday, another daily record high, including 497 new cases in Peel and 456 in Toronto.
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