Auto manufacturers and dealers will face a higher level of scrutiny, especially from staff and customers, to ensure they are following new coronavirus-related health and safety regulations, say industry and legal experts.
Nissan Canada CEO Steve Milette said the new protocols are a cost of doing business and that dealers must ensure they are communicating to employees and customers the steps they are taking to keep work environments safe.
“For a network to be successful in the future, it’s going to be an expectation of the customer that you meet all of these requirements. As we reopen the markets, even me, as a consumer, when I go into a retail outlet where they’ve actually cleaned a shopping cart in front of my eyes it looks and smells sanitized and I feel a lot more confident than when you go into a store where there is no visible mark of any of this stuff.
“Successful dealers have to create a very safe environment for customers.”
Indeed, anxiety about visiting public spaces appears to be prevalent among Canadians. A Leger-Association for Canadian Studies survey, conducted May 8 to 11, suggests 57 per cent of 1,526 respondents find it stressful to venture out in public.
And according to a study released this week by the group, 51 per cent of respondents said they have worn masks to go grocery shopping — up eight percentage points in one week. Forty-five per cent said they’ve worn masks to go to a pharmacy (up seven points), 17 per cent at work (up four points), 14 per cent on public transit (up four points) and 12 per cent to go for walks (up two points).
And 53 per cent — up two points — said masks should be mandatory in public and confined spaces, like shopping malls and public transit.
Provincial governments as well as manufacturers and industry associations have been releasing sector-specific guidelines designed to entrench physical distancing and strict hygienic practices within the workplace. The guidelines fall under the jurisdiction of provinces, which administer occupational health and safety enforcement.
“Will every employer follow all the guidelines? That’s a real question,” said Andrea Raso, a partner at Clark Wilson LLP of Vancouver, which specializes in labour law.
“It’s very incumbent on employers to put a protocol into place, communicate that protocol properly and tell employees what their obligations are.”
The pandemic has raised questions surrounding a company’s liability in the event of an employee contracting COVID-19 on the job.
Provincial workers’ compensation laws across the country appear likely to shield employers from many COVID-19-related lawsuits if an employee contracts the illness on the job, said Raso. Under such laws, employees and their families are prohibited from suing their employers if they receive workers’ compensation benefits. Contracting COVID-19 on the job would be considered a “workplace illness,” thus entitling an employee to workers’ compensation, Raso said.
Employees who believe their workplaces are unsafe have a right to refuse that work and have an obligation to file a complaint with authorities, Raso said, adding she expects provinces to place an emphasis on looking into COVID-19related cases.
“I suspect that there will be a number of investigative officers put onto this.”
Ontario, for example, recently announced plans to step up workplace inspection and enforcement.
This year, up to May 8, inspectors visited more than 4,700 workplaces and issued 2,500 orders related to COVID-19, according to a spokeswoman for the Ontario Ministry of Labour. Those included having businesses provide instructions to protect the health of workers and provide proper personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, the spokeswoman said.
Some jurisdictions are taking additional measures to ensure compliance with emergency orders. Newfoundland and Labrador launched a website to take reports from the public about individuals or businesses that “are acting contrary to orders under the Public Health Protection and Promotion Act.”
Cautious workers returning to the factory floor will also be paying close attention to their employers’ commitment to health and safety.
Employees can report working conditions they consider unsafe, including having insufficient PPE or employers not respecting physical-distancing requirements, said Alexander Ognibene, an associate at McCarthy Tétrault LLP in Toronto who works in the firm’s labour and employment group.
Failure to comply with Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act can result in a maximum of one year in prison and fines of up to $100,000 for an individual, $500,000 for a director of a corporation, and $1.5 million for a corporation according to the labour ministry.
The province’s inspectors have also been authorized to enforce Ontario’s emergency orders.
According to the labour ministry, failure to comply with orders under the province’s Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act can carry a maximum fine of up to one year in prison or a fine of up to $100,000 for an individual, $500,000 for a director of a corporation and $10 million for a corporation.
However, an inspector ordering an entire workplace closure is seen as a “last resort” by regulators, said Ognibene.
The Canadian Press contributed to this report.