Webinar Report: Risk Management in a Pandemic: What to Do Now
TABS Webinar Report
The European American Chamber of Commerce held a webinar on Risk Management during a Pandemic on April 22nd.
– Prof. Dr. Christian C.-W. Pleister, Partner, NOERR
– Cecilia Carrara, Partner, LEGANCE
– Steve Wilson, Partner, OSBORNE CLARK
– Frederique Henriot, Director of Sales & Business Development, North America, GL EVENTS
– William M. Taylor, Partner, PEPPER HAMILTON LLP
The starting point is defining if your business is considered essential or non-essential. If it is the first things will be much more complex, even though both will need adjustments. Depending on your local health and safety requirements there are some cleaning obligations you may need to abide to such as deep cleaning on a daily basis, limiting visitors and also other measures to minimize the risk of your workforce being contaminated, such as facilitating extra parking so they don’t have to take public transportation or finding an alternative way for them to get to the office. For people working from home there will need to be adjustments to the internal reporting and the way you serve your clients externally.
If you have essential workers who refuse to go to work, the easy answer is to try to negotiate and find a way that works for both of you. There are disciplinary measures you may take in extreme situations, but it is best to avoid unless necessary.
If you need to adjust your workforce there are flexible working arrangements such as a furlough, a temporary solution might be available where you are based and hopefully your employee will have their job back once this is all over.
Adapt to a new reality
Changes are happening at a very fast pace, it is crucial that companies keep a clear communication stream, there is a chance your employees will be confused with the constant updates. As an example, the lockdown in New York is different form the lockdown in Paris, so if you are an international company it is important to have the different realities in consideration.
This situation has created very specific issues that companies must face. Many employers are trying to retain their employees as the economy is completely shut down in certain sectors and there are some government relief programs to assist these businesses, the most well-known is the PPP (Paycheck Protection Program), part of the Federal CARES Act, in which small businesses may get up to $10 million, the money must be used for specific expenses, like payroll, mortgages, rent and utilities. The money for this program has already dried out, the Government is currently working on another round of funding, so it’s important that companies apply as soon as possible so they have better chances of receiving some funding. If you are approved for the funding keep track of your expenses.
In the US, we have seen a substantial amount of litigation connected to allegations of unsafe workplace, so make sure your company is following all requirements and CDC recommendations.
The shutdown has prevented some parties to perform their contractual obligations. We have seen litigation files in the last several weeks that suggest that businesses and their lawyers may be misapplying and misusing contractual defenses such as force majeure. It is unlikely for a party to be bailed using the Covid-19 as a force majeure event unless the contract specifically mentions a pandemic or epidemic. Often this clause only suspends the duty performed temporarily other than terminating it altogether. A relationship is much more than your contract, it is ok to turn to your legal department, but before things become too aggressive, we recommend you trying to negotiate with your business partners.
Economy after the pandemic
Although we believe there will be a decrease in globalization, we strongly believe we will still have a global economy and most manufacturing will still be coming from China. We do not predict manufacturers will invest in high tech plants in other locations. To what concerns office work, there is very positive feedback from companies who have a global workforce, having employees working in different time zones has worked very well for these businesses during lockdown.