As of July 18, 2020, the Government of Québec will implement a new measure making masks or face coverings mandatory in all enclosed or partially enclosed public places. Here are some essential elements for employers to consider regarding this new measure:

1. To whom does this apply?

As is already the case on public transit, wearing a mask or face covering will be mandatory in enclosed or partially enclosed public places for those aged 12 and up. Wearing a mask or face covering is strongly recommended for children between two and 12 years of age and strongly discouraged for children under the age of two. In addition, people whose particular medical condition prevents them from wearing a mask or face covering, including those who are unable to put it on or take it off by themselves should not wear it.

2. What is an enclosed or partially enclosed public place?

According to the information provided by the Government of Québec to this date, an enclosed or partially enclosed public place namely refers to:

  • A retail business;
  • A service company (e.g. pharmacies);
  • A professional's private office;
  • A place where municipal or government services are offered;
  • A personal care business (e.g. hairdressers, beauty care);
  • A shopping mall;
  • A place of worship;
  • A place where cultural or entertainment activities or services are offered (e.g. movie theatre, concert hall, museum, etc.);
  • A rental room or other venue used to host events, such as conferences and conventions;
  • All common areas of establishments, including those in office buildings (e.g. lobbies, reception area, elevators and hallways);
  • A place where sports or recreational activities are practiced;
  • A restaurant or bar;
  • Educational institutions (except preschool, primary and secondary schools), including colleges and universities;
  • Public transportation (a train or bus station, a river station, a metro station or an airport).

Wearing a mask or face covering will also be mandatory to access or move around a lobby, reception area or elevator in an office building other than an apartment building.

For more information, read the Government of Québec's announcement (in French).

3. Will it be mandatory to wear a face covering at all times while indoors?

Wearing a mask or face covering will be mandatory to access or move around the above-mentioned locations.

However, once inside the enclosed or partially-enclosed public place, wearing a mask or face covering will only be required where it is not possible to keep of two metres apart from others. For example, you can remove your mask in a restaurant once you are seated at a table with members of your household. In our opinion, masks or face coverings can also be removed in an office, once an employee is at their desk, except when the minimum distance of two metres cannot be respected.

4. Are my employees required to wear a mask or face covering when they are performing their duties?

The Commission des normes, de l'équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST) provided specific measures for employees which are described in its guidelines for each business sector. The Government of Québec has modified its website as of July 15, 2020 to specify that the measures provided for by the CNESST are the only measures that apply in the workplace except when employees are passing through common areas of their office building (lobbies, reception areas, elevators, toilets, eating areas, etc.). Therefore, if your employees were not required to wear a mask or a face covering before the introduction of this new directive, the new government mandate will not affect the employees, except in the common areas of the office building.

5. Can wearing a face shield replace wearing a mask or face covering?

According to the National Institute of Public Health, employees may, in certain circumstances, as a last resort, wear a face shield instead of a face covering or a mask to protect their safety when, for example, the face covering or mask fogs the wearer's glasses.

If an employee wears a face shield, it must be kept in a protective position and not raised. The shield cannot, however, replace the procedural face mask when it is required.

6. Who will take action if a visitor refuses to wear a face covering?

The establishment will have to refuse access to visitors who refuse to wear a face mask or covering.

The Commission des normes, de l'équité,de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST) may fine establishments that allow visitors who do not comply with this measure. For the time being, non-compliant individuals will not be fined, but this is expected to change effective August.

7. What are the possible fines?

Fines for establishments range from $400 to $6,000, which are consistent with fines for violations under the Public Health Act.

8. Are establishments required to provide face coverings to customers or visitors?

There is no requirement as of yet for establishments to provide masks or face coverings to clients or visitors. However, we recommend making them available to prevent potential conflicts at the door.

9. Will my employees who work in a section of the establishment not open to the public have to wear masks?

No, except for circulating in common areas of the office building.

10. As an employer, will I have to provide face coverings to my employees working in an enclosed or partially enclosed public part of the establishment?

Yes, if they need to pass through common areas to get to their workstation or office (such as an elevator or the lobby). Public Health authorities have made masks and face coverings mandatory, and employers must provide this personal protective equipment to employees in respect to the Act Respecting Occupational Health and Safety.

11. Under the health directives issued by the CNESST, my employees were already required to wear a procedural mask. Will they now be able to insist on wearing only a face covering?

No. Employees may not substitute their procedural mask for a face covering in circumstances where the procedural mask is required by CNESST, since the procedural mask offers greater protection. If a substitution were to be made, Health Canada or another government authority would have to certify that such a face covering offers the same guarantees of protection as a procedural mask.

12. Does this new measure replace asking questions at the entrance of the establishment to exclude clients who are symptomatic or at risk of contracting COVID-19?

No. This measure is complementary to other measures recommended by Public Health authorities, including hand-washing, respiratory hygiene, physical distancing and keeping those who are potentially sick out of workplaces and public places.

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Originally published 18 July, 2020

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.