Can I argue that my contract has been frustrated?
It could be possible depending on your contract. If there is no force majeure clause in a contract, it may be possible that the contract may have been “frustrated” by emergency legislation. In legal terms, a contract can be frustrated where an event occurs after it is entered into which was not contemplated by any party at the outset, is not due to the fault of any party, and which makes the performance of the contract impossible.
If this is the case, the contract could be “discharged”, meaning that the parties’ obligations under the contract are no longer binding.
It is possible that a contract could be frustrated within this particular legal doctrine by a change in the law that makes performance of a contract illegal. However, if it simply becomes more difficult, or more expensive, then the legal tests for frustration might not be satisfied. There are also limits to the application of the rule if the frustrating event was already known about at the time the contracted was entered into.
Again, careful legal advice will be required at an early stage. The rules about force majeure or frustration might help businesses that find themselves unable to perform a contract because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Any new contracts that are concluded should expressly deal with the possibility that performance might become more difficult, more costly, or impossible to perform.
CMA guidance suggests that it will not take enforcement action in respect of agreements which:
- Are appropriate and necessary to avoid a shortage, or ensure security, of supply
- Are clearly in the public interest
- Contribute to the benefit or wellbeing of consumers
- Deal with critical issues that arise as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic
- Last no longer than is necessary to deal with these critical issues
As the pandemic progresses, more and more people will be forced to self-isolate and, inevitably, both tenants and staff will be affected. Put plans in place to mitigate the impact that this may have, particularly regarding staff shortages. The most important focus here should be communication.
The Covid-19 outbreak will affect the pace of everyday life and delays will be expected. Rather than allowing the pandemic to take over completely, it is important to maintain open communication with tenants as much as possible and inform them of any front-facing challenges that you may face.
The Protocol does envisage that delays may occur and allows for some degree of flexibility. Whilst all efforts should be made to conduct inspections where practical and possible, it should be expected by all parties that timescales will be extended during this crisis. It is fundamental, however, that all changes made to standard practice are communicated and explained to tenants to manage expectations.
Similar flexibility should be afforded to tenants. As households are required to isolate it will not always be possible to gain access to properties as would usually be expected and required. Likewise, vulnerable people will wish to protect themselves and their families and may refuse access on this basis. During this period, a degree of understanding must be exercised and concessions made.
Inspections may be delayed if anyone in the household has symptoms. A questionnaire should be prepared for those visiting properties to assess so far as possible the risk; Personal Protective Equipment should be issued to those visiting, and government guidelines followed.
An employee on Flexible Furlough can take part in volunteer work during hours which you record your employee as being on Flexible Furlough as long as it is for another employer or organisation.
To be clear, if on Flexible Furlough and you’re claiming the grant for them, then they cannot work for you.
As people work part-time and ease back into the business, this is likely going to be a key risk area. You need very clear lines as to working time and non-working time. No replying to emails on days off.
The guidance has confirmed that all remaining employment rights and terms continue while an employee is furloughed. Holiday will continue to accrue during furlough however you may reach agreement with employees on reducing entitlement provided that it does not fall below the statutory minimum of 5.6 weeks per year.
An employer has a duty of care to its workforce and must take reasonable precautions to protect the health and safety of employees. Employers also have a duty of care towards anyone entering or using their place of business, such as visiting clients or customers.
This means that if an employer reasonably believes that wearing face masks at work is appropriate and necessary, it can issue an instruction to employees to this effect and employees should abide by this as far as possible.
However employers should be cautious about introducing and enforcing a policy across its business which requires its staff to wear face masks as there is the risk of unlawfully discriminating against people who are exempt from wearing face coverings or have legitimate reasons for not doing so. An employer should also consider the duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees and discuss any concerns raised by employees who do not want to or feel unable to wear a mask.