It hit Michelle Shabatura and her staff hard. The owner of Farmer’s Daughter on Hwy 60 says they were surprised when three enforcement officers from Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit arrived at the business on Sunday, Feb. 7 and subsequently levied a $1,000 fine for noncompliance with orders under the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, 2020. They were one of five Muskoka businesses to receive fines during a compliance blitz last week.
Shabatura maintains that she and her staff have done everything right.
The officers told her that the business failed to do three things, she says: post a sign stating how many people are allowed on the premises at one time, record a cleaning schedule, and complete a screening checklist with each staff member before they begin work each day.
“We feel we’ve been really unjustly treated,” says Shabatura. “We’re probably going to fight it in every way possible…we’ve really been compliant.”
Staff are aware of the number of people permitted in the building and don’t allow more than that in, says Shabatura, but that number isn’t posted on the door for the public to see. Shabatura asked for an example of what that sign should look like, and says she was told they’d have to figure that out for themselves. “The struggle with compliance is if we are supposed to follow something a certain way, how come we aren’t being supported in providing what that is?”
She also asked for an example of a screening form for staff, and was similarly told they would have to build their own, she says.
And although they are diligent about wiping down counters, they weren’t aware they needed to document the times at which they were doing that.
As of today, the signs and checklists have been made, she adds. “It took us almost half a day yesterday just to really understand what our deadline was for compliance and what it is what we needed to do. There wasn’t a lot of support.”
Shabatura notes that the business has been diligent from the beginning of the pandemic in Ontario, with plexiglass dividers installed the first week, measures in place from the start to wash carts and baskets and to wipe down counters and keypads with every customer, and to ensure staff wear masks all the time. They removed their seating area, and offer curbside pickup, delivery, online shopping, and allow customers to schedule private shopping times if they are immune-compromised or concerned. Gloves, masks, and hand sanitizer are available for customers.
Farmer’s Daughter staff have a weekly meeting to review protocols, she adds.
“To be fined is upsetting,” says Shabatura. “Not even getting a warning or an opportunity to understand clearly what is required…I get [the fine] if I was being reckless, I get all of that if we weren’t trying our hardest every single day as a collective team. It brought us to our knees today.”
She would like to see the health unit offer greater clarity on specifically what is required so that other businesses don’t face the same issue Farmer’s Daughter has.
It’s the first time the business has received a visit from the health unit’s Barrie office during the pandemic, says Shabatura, but they’ve been in regular contact with the local health inspector to ask for advice on what protocols they should have in place.
“Where I struggle with the compliance aspect is they are there to help us and educate us and provide us with what we need. If you’re noncompliant, it means that you’re not trying nor are you willing, I suppose…noncompliance is a blatant disregard and that’s not us,” says Shabatura. “We totally care about our customers, we totally care about our staff.”
The hardest part for her has been seeing how sad her staff—which Shabatura calls the best team in town—are that the business has been fined despite doing their best.
Collectively, businesses need to demand clarity in order to ensure they are complying, says Shabatura. “I appreciate them coming in, I appreciate their concern and spot-checking, but my challenge is that we are clearly doing our best and I feel we’ve been going over and above from the very beginning and staying consistent from the very beginning… Give us some clarity so we know what the right thing is. I don’t want anybody else to feel the way I have had to feel and go through what I have had to go through.”
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