We are busily advising people on business continuity plans, staff management and making plans for different operations.
We are advising clients across a range of industries, from both an employer and employee perspective and across all business types.
We are using a checklist and thought we would share it, to ensure that all our clients are covering all essential items.
Business interruption or business continuity
All businesses should have a type of business continuity plan.
We are a team of three, so we have all arranged to work from home with minimal fuss and disruption and have advised clients that it is business as usual, except for face-to-face meetings. We are still waiting to see whether there will be interruption to court hearings, other than the existing interruptions to jury trials we already know about.
If you have a medium to large size business, it helps to triage decision-making, by forming a small group of management personnel to meet daily to assess the latest news and make operational decisions. They can then communicate the latest to staff who fall within their area of responsibility.
Ensure each staff member knows what manager they are to report to and how often and in what manner they are expected to communicate, particularly if they are working from home.
If normal business operations are going to be affected, notify all staff and clients or customers as soon as practicable, and keep communicating. While there is a level of community knowledge and understanding about the current pandemic, it is important that specific information is provided as soon as practicable. If staff are being affected, they will have questions.
Obligations to staff
Apart from obligations under the Fair Work Act, individual contracts, agreements and awards, as an employer you also have occupation health and safety obligations at law that you must seriously consider. Apart from providing a safe workplace, you are also responsible for people’s safety and well-being when they are working from home, and social isolation can be difficult for people. Keep in touch with staff regularly. Offer what support you can to staff, particularly where their rostered shifts and consequent income are going to be reduced.
The Fair Work Act allows for forced leave in limited and reasonable circumstances. If you are going to force people to take leave, you need to be mindful of the limitations around it, and the communications to staff that are required.
Interruption to supply
If you work in the service industry, and supply is going to be interrupted, you need to check your supply and service contracts to see if you have “force majeure” clauses, and to have them interpreted and obtain legal advice. Rarely do we lawyers have the opportunity to effect force majeure clauses, but it does happen. The last time I advised on effecting force majeure clauses was during the 2010 Brisbane floods, when clients were unable to deliver services because of inaccessibility due to the floods.
There is no template force majeure clause, and they all vary. Some have very few exclusions, whereas some have a long list of exclusions. If you are unable to deliver your goods or services due to the pandemic, consider whether you can effect a force majeure clause.
If you rent premises and are going to be significantly affected by an interruption or temporary cessation of business, you should review your lease and check the rent abatement clause. Most standard commercial or retail leases do not provide for abatement in the case of pandemics, but you should check. If there is no such clause, consider a direct approach or proposal to your landlord or managing agent. There may be an arrangement that can reached in the short term, to provide some support for small business.