Ontario’s New Rules on Temporary Mask Removal During Lunch Break

There are specific rules in effect in Ontario on temporary removal of masks to eat or drink at workplaces.

What are the new rules?

Ontario businesses and organizations must ensure that employees who temporarily take off their masks to eat or drink are separated from every other person by:

  • a distance of at least two metres; or
  • plexiglass or some other impermeable barrier

On April 23, 2021, Ontario submitted Regulations 313/21, 314/21 and 315/21 under the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, 2020

These Regulations amended existing rules to bring in new requirements on temporary removal of masks in the workplace to consume food or drink during Stage 1, Stage 2, and Stage 3 of the reopening plan.

Are these requirements in effect?

Yes. These new requirements came into force from April 23, 2021. All employers must comply with these Regulations.

What other measures can I follow to limit risk of infection during lunch breaks?

Lunch areas are high-risk zones as workers may come in close contact with each other. During meal breaks, employees also share kitchen equipment, such as microwaves, refrigerators, etc.

It is also a space where people must remove their masks temporarily to eat and drink. It is critical that stringent safety measures be followed in lunchrooms.

We recommend that you:

  • Ensure when employees remove their masks to eat or drink, they are separated from every other person by a distance of at least two metres, or a plexiglass or some other impermeable barrier.
  • You must stagger lunch breaks and/or coffee breaks to restrict the number of workers in the lunch or break area at any given time.
  • Make sure common areas such as kitchen, lunchrooms and changing rooms are well-ventilated. There should be enough space for your employees to maintain at least 2 metres of physical distance.
  • Rearrange the furniture in your lunch areas to permit physical distancing. Allocate more spots for eating and taking breaks if the current spaces are not enough.
  • Make sure your HVAC systems are duly maintained.
  • Create an inflow plan for lunch areas as well. Provide separate doors for entry and exit. Place visual markings on the floors for physical distancing and to prevent employees from crossing each other.
  • Create and convey clear policies to staff on use of lunch areas, changing rooms and break rooms.
  • Make sure the lunch areas and kitchen are stocked with hand sanitizers, and cleaning and disinfecting materials. They should also have handwashing stations.
  • Stick up posters in the lunchrooms and breakrooms on capacity and time limits, physical distancing, and the new Regulations for temporarily removing masks while eating or drinking.
  • Have signage in place to remind employees to wash or disinfect their hands before and after eating.
  • Clean and disinfect common spaces frequently. You must also ensure high-touch points such as doorknobs, table surfaces, microwaves, refrigerator handles are frequently disinfected.
  • Provide paper towels in the kitchen and washrooms to prevent skin contact with high-touch points.
  • Don’t allow your staff to remove their face masks indoors or while waiting for the microwave.
  • If your workplace is multicultural, put up the signage in all the languages spoken by your employees.

Do you need help creating health and safety policies for the pandemic?

Our experts can help you develop company policies as well as with any other HR, health and safety, or employment advice you may need. See how we have helped other small and medium businesses get their business compliant with provincial legislation.

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