Europe

Impact of Coronavirus on Employment and Business Relationships: Force Majeure and Other Important Aspects

Undertakings who have difficulty in performing their obligations to cooperation partners and employees are faced with the following questions:

  • Is the virus a force majeure event?
  • Is the aggrieved party entitled to claim amendment of the contract from the other party?

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Korona – Ylivoimainen este (Force majeure)

SOPIMUSSITOVUUS

Sopimukset laaditaan aina niillä tiedoin, mitä sopimushetkellä on tiedossa. Sopimusoikeuden keskeisin periaate on sopimuksen sitovuus. Oikeustoimen solmivat sopijapuolet voivat yhdessä sopimusvapauden nojalla päättää velvoitteista, joita he sopimuksellaan sitoutuvat noudattamaan keskinäisessä suhteessaan. Sopimusrikkomuksista voi seurata vahingonkorvausvelvollisuus, sopimussakko tai muita oikeudellisia sanktioita. Read more…

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CORONAVIRUS: LEGAL ISSUES RELATED TO EVENTS

Quo vadis? – So as the ancient Romans said “where are you going”, or how many Austrians have recently had to say “where are you not going”?

What has been ordered – On Tuesday, March 10th, 2020, the government presented far-reaching restrictive measures to deal with the coronavirus for the next few weeks. Among other things, all outdoor events with over 500 participants and indoor events with over 100 participants are prohibited until the beginning of April (03.04.2020). However, what the government has not said is what that means for everyone. Read more…

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Coronavirus: What Should Employers Know?

As the number of COVID-19 cases globally and in the UK continues to increase, employers may be wondering what measures they should be taking and what rights their employees have. A number of workplace related issues have been reported in the media, and just today there have been reports that HSBC have had to send employees home from their head office due to an employee testing positive for the disease.

So what measures should employers be taking, and what rights do employees have? Here we look at some commonly asked questions.

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Coronavirus and UK Immigration

As of 11 March 2020 there have been over 118,000 confirmed Coronavirus (Covid-19) cases and in excess of 4,000 deaths reported globally [1] . 113 countries and territories are affected with the numbers growing daily. The whole of Italy is now on lockdown, President Trump has announced the suspension of all travel from Europe (excluding the UK) into the US with effect from Friday at midnight and, if media reports are to be believed, it will likely not be too long before other countries, possibly even the UK, follow with similar measures. Read more…

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QUESTIONS RELATING TO TRAVEL LAW RELATING TO THE CORONA VIRUS

Coronavirus travel warnings. Since December 2019, when the disease COVID-19 caused by the corona virus (SARS-CoV-2) was first diagnosed in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the new virus has spread rapidly worldwide and has already led to numerous victims in neighboring countries . The Austrian Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs initially issued a general travel warning with the highest security level 6 for Iran and South Korea and now for the whole of Italy; for China (Hubei with Wuhan) there is currently at least a partial travel warning with security level 5 (as of March 10, 2020; for the latest travel warnings, see https://www.bmeia.gv.at/reise-sitzhalt/reisewarlungen/). However, the travel warnings of each country only apply to their own citizens (for travel warnings from all EU member states, see  https://ec.europa.eu/consularprotection/content/travel-advice_de ). Read more…

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COVID-19: Practical Steps for Employers

With six official cases of COVID-19 confirmed in the Republic of Ireland in recent days and the decision taken by schools to close where those diagnosed with the virus are students or family members, it appears to be only a matter of time before employers will face a similar dilemma regarding closure.

There is no advice from Government to close workplaces just yet but with the pace of contagion seemingly refusing to slow down employers must now consider what steps may need to be taken to protect their workforce and business in the face of such uncertainty.

Below we set out some practical steps that employers may need to consider when faced with potential workplace disruption.

Practical Steps for Employers

1. Carry out a Risk Assessment

Management would be well advised to undertake a full scale review of the risk that may present should COVID-19 spread further.
Depending on the industry, sector particular aspects of a business may be more affected than others. For example, a business that requires regular travel to affected regions to meet customers and suppliers or a business heavily reliant on staff being on-site, i.e. the retail or construction sectors.

The remainder of these practical steps below act as a guide through common areas of concern for employers.

2. Existing Policies and Procedures

A key step for employers is to review the existing policies and procedures which may apply in such a scenario. For example, relevant policies may include those regarding:-

  • Absence from work;
  • Pay whilst absent;
  • Health and safety;
  • Working from home; and
  • Bullying and harassment.

If these policies are not adequate it would be prudent to issue a “COVID-19 Policy” which could capture the relevant sections of many of the above named policies in one document. It is important that any change to an existing policy is notified in advance to employees. Legal advice should also be sought in such circumstances.

Key questions for employers to address when reviewing existing policies in the context of a COVID-19 outbreak are:-

  • Is an employee entitled to be paid for absence, for sickness or isolation?
  • If an employee is not entitled to be paid, will such a fact encourage them to return to work when they may still be potentially carrying the virus?
  • Does a leave policy require certification that the employee is fit to return to work? This could be problematic where employees are being advised not to attend a GP.
  • Should an employer consider temporarily amending the leave or sickness policy due to the extreme circumstances? If so, notice to the employees is essential.

3. Sick Pay and Sickness Certification

There is no legal obligation to pay an employee in Ireland if they are on sick leave from work. Some employers do pay sick leave for defined periods and such benefits, if any, are set out in the employer’s policies or an employee’s contract of employment.

In terms of the rights of particular employees and pay:-

  • People who are diagnosed with COVID-19: normal workplace arrangements in respect of sick-absence should apply. Employees diagnosed with COVID-19 can, as is the case of any other illness, apply for income support from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection in the form of illness benefit based on social insurance contributions or supplementary welfare allowance based on a means test.
  • People who are not diagnosed with COVID-19 but who self-isolate: if their employer ceases to pay their wages, such employees can apply for income support from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. A person who self-isolates in accordance with the up-to-date guidelines from the HSE but does not have a medical certificate from a medical practitioner, may apply for an income support in the form of supplementary welfare allowance.
  • People who are requested to stay at home by their employer: Anyone who is not advised to self-isolate in accordance with the up-to-date guidelines of the HSE, but is requested to stay at home by their employer as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19, should continue to be paid but in situations where the employer cannot continue to pay their wages employees can apply for income support in the form of a jobseeker payment or supplementary welfare allowance.
  • People who need to take time off work to care for a person affected by COVID-19: employers can, and do, agree compassionate leave arrangements with staff who need to take short periods of time off to care for another person.

Certification of potentially infected employees is clearly a practical challenge, to both employers and employees, where employees are unable to attend their GP for a diagnosis.

If an employee is self-isolating the employer will need to trust that the employee is not abusing the instruction not to attend work. Any breach of this trust could be a disciplinary issue and should be set out as such in any COVID-19 Policy. Nevertheless, considering health and safety (discussed further below), it would be advisable that their employer take a conservative view here rather than rush any employee back to work where they are reporting symptoms.

If an employee is verified as having the virus, they should request a medical certificate from their doctor and supply these to HR until certified as “fit to return” by their GP.

4. Obligation to Provide a Safe Place of Work

In accordance with section 8 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 (as amended) an employer is obliged to provide a safe place of work for all employees. For this reason, it is essential that employers make sure any employee who suspects that they may have been exposed to COVID-19 is told not to report for work and self-isolate until the advised 14 day incubation period has safely expired without diagnosis of the virus.

If an employee refuses to self-isolate when recommended by the employer and the employer is concerned that such employee is a high risk person, it may be possible for the employer to suspend such an employee so that they do not report for work at a workplace but only in cases where the policies and procedures of the employer allow for such action. We strongly advise that legal advice is taken before any suspension is contemplated.

Employers should also circulate the following guidance to employees and facilitate such practices in the workplace:-

  • Wash hands frequently;
  • Use alcohol based hand sanitiser;
  • Practice good respiratory hygiene;
  • Maintain social distance; and
  • Self-isolate if symptomatic (fever, cough, shortness of breath).

5. Discrimination, Equality and Bullying & Harassment

Employers should be very careful not to discriminate against employees who are from high risk regions or of a nationality that is strongly associated with the virus. Further, employers have an obligation to protect against bullying and harassment in the workplace which could arise in the context of such employees.

6. Working from Home

An employer may request multiple employees to work from home should they self-isolate or for other reasons for the benefit of reducing any contagion. If an employee starts to work from home but does not normally work from such a location, it is essential that an employer takes steps to protect the business, as follows:-

  • Identify if any device that is to be used to work from home is safe from a cyber security and data protection point of view and complies with company policy;
  • Perform a sweep of devices and install virus protection software or other security tools to protect previously unregistered devices on the company server;
  • Train staff sufficiently in the use of devices at home and to be vigilant in terms of cyber and data security; and
  • Remind staff of their confidentiality obligations particularly if working from a public location or on a public broadband or wifi.

The infrastructure required to enable all staff to work from home may not be readily available to every employer but businesses should at least enable “essential staff” (i.e. HR staff, accounts staff and management) to work from home in case of emergency.

Conclusion

In summary, employers must be vigilant to protect the spread of COVID-19 while balancing the need to continue their business. Should any employers have concerns about best practice and suitable action to protect staff and business continuity, including the drafting of a COVID-19 policy, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Shane Costelloe is an Associate in our Corporate and Commercial Unit with specific expertise in Employment Law advising employers.

The post COVID-19: Practical Steps for Employers appeared first on Holmes O’Malley Sexton Solicitors.

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Data, the new oil of a business, needs to be protected from unforeseen breaches

The fact that data is now regarded as the new oil in the running of a business, and that the exploitation of data is a very lucrative industry, prompted Shannon Chamber to host a seminar on data protection in conjunction with us and the Data Protection Commission.

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Amendments to the Federal Law “On currency regulation and currency control”

On 1st January 2020, the Federal Law of 02.08.2019 № 265-FZ “On Amendments to the Federal Law” “On Currency Regulation and Currency Control” entered into force in terms of liberalization of restrictions on foreign exchange transactions that are made by residents using accounts (deposits) opened with banks located outside the territory of the Russian Federation and repatriation of funds1. Read more…

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Legal Eagles in the Making – Our Transition Year Programme

Our latest Transition Year (TY) Programme (which was a finalist in the Community Programme category of the Chambers Ireland Corporate Social Responsibility Awards 2019) was held in our Limerick office from 24th to 28th February. This year students from eight schools from counties Limerick and Tipperary took part and over 25 of our team and guest speakers contributed directly to facilitating the week.

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