Coronavirus – Dixcart Legal ‘Flags’ for Businesses

We are in uncharted territory. The situation is fluid and government advice is changing on a daily basis. We do not propose to reiterate the advice – needless to say you should be keeping abreast of all such advice. The government (including Public Health England) has produced a lot of guidance which can be viewed here: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/coronavirus-covid-19-list-of-guidance#guidance-for-non-clinical-settings and, in particular, their Guidance for employers and businesses

The purpose of this article is just to flag some points:

  • Review your disaster recovery plan – Plan it, test it, communicate it. For example:
    • If it refers to all employees working from home do they have the equipment to do so?
    • Are appropriate security measures in place to allow for remote working?
    • Will your IT system cope with all employees logging in from outside the office at the same time?
    • Who are in the emergency team that will take responsibility for restoring the business operations (and which are the most critical functions they should prioritise)?
    • Do you have up to date emergency contact lists – both for contacting staff and their next of kin?
    • Do you have clear procedures?
    • Have you backed-up key business records and data off-site?
    • Do you have alternative servers, power sources and network capability for remote access?
  • Check your contracts – What happens if you cannot perform your obligations under a contract or if your suppliers cannot perform theirs? Consider the terms of your contract to supply customers and the terms of those who supply to you.
    • What does the contract say about breaches of obligations and about termination?
    • Do they include force majeure clauses and what are the details of such clauses? Do you understand them?
    • What are the ongoing obligations after termination?
    • Should you be speaking to your customers and suppliers now about problems you currently foresee? (There could be reputational risks and potential damage to long-term supply relationships with overseas buyers and suppliers if there is disruption. An early approach might encourage flexibility with affected parties.)
  • Check your insurance policies – Review and then speak with your insurance broker to see what areas of business disruption may be covered. Do they have any advice?
  • Employment
    • Keep up to date with government advice.
    • Check your sick pay policy and contractual sick pay provisions.
    • Make sure your managers are consistent in their approach to payment of sick pay where any discretion is involved.
    • Keep a record of communications made to staff and reasons for any decisions.
    • Ensure staff are aware of Public Health England advice.
    • Remind staff of your anti-harassment/discrimination policies if you have any concerns about workers who are from, or may look like they are from, primary infected regions.
    • If you think you may need to consider a re-structure start thinking about what your alternative options might be. They may be obvious to some readers, but not all – think creatively:
      • Suspending recruitment.
      • Removing or reducing overtime.
      • Non-renewal of contracts for contractors.
      • Stopping use of agency workers.
      • See if any staff are willing to take voluntary redundancy.
      • Enforcing holiday leave.
      • Seeking agreement for shorter working weeks.
      • Seeking temporary lay-offs (staff are provided with no work, and therefore no pay, for a certain period, but stay employed).
  • Property
    • Keep up to date of your health and safety obligations.
    • If you have a lease consider its terms regarding any obligations to comply with laws.
    • Landlords of multi-tenanted buildings should consider their obligations regarding health and safety in the context of the common parts and their obligations to tenants.

Our specialist teams can help advise you on all aspects of the points listed above.

Let’s work on this challenge together.

The data contained within this document is for general information only. No responsibility can be accepted for inaccuracies. Readers are also advised that the law and practice may change from time to time. This document is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute accounting, legal or tax advice. Professional advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from any action as a result of the contents of this document.