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Can I be investigated or prosecuted by HSE if one of my workers contracts Covid-19?

The reality of these unprecedented times is that enforcement of health and safety legislation by the HSE (particularly through the criminal courts) in relation to Covid-19 is an extremely unlikely outcome.

Related FAQs

Due to the lockdown and government guidelines, my partner and I have moved in to the house I own. Is there anything I need to be worried about?

Where a couple is not married, they have limited rights in relation to each other’s assets and these mainly relate to rights over property assets. There is complex Trust law which governs whether or not your partner could claim an interest in your property and it generally relates to where someone has invested in renovations on the property or promises have been made. If this is something you are concerned about, you and your partner could enter in to a Cohabitation Agreement. These Agreements can set out various matters, including who will pay the bills and where each of you would live if you separated. Most importantly, they can record your intentions about who owns the property and exclude any rights your partner would have against your property.

What guidance has the CMA issued about how it expects businesses to behave in response to the global pandemic?

On 30th April 2020, the CMA issued a guidance note setting out its views about how the law operates in relation to refunds.

Where a contract is not performed as agreed, the CMA considers that in most cases, consumer protection law will generally allow consumers to obtain a refund.

This includes the following situations:

  • Where a business has cancelled a contract without providing any of the promised goods or services
  • Where no service is provided by a business, for example because this is prevented by Government public health measures
  • A consumer cancels, or is prevented from receiving any services, because Government public health measures mean they are not allowed to use the services.

In the CMA’s view, this will usually apply even where the consumer has paid what the business says is a non-refundable deposit or advance payment.

This positon reflects the CMA’s previous guidance which they had issued in relation to the requirement of fairness in consumer contracts under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, which was that a clause in a contract that gives a blanket entitlement to a trader to cancel a contract and retain deposits paid is likely to be unfair, and therefore unenforceable – it would be unfair to a consumer to lose their deposit if the contract is terminated without any fault on their part, and if they had received no benefit for the payments made.

The CMA’s latest guidance therefore confirms their view that the Covid-19 outbreak does not change the basic rights of the consumer, and that they should not have to pay for goods or services that they do not receive.

How do I remain compliant and cover any risk?

Data on properties, and people, has never been more important.

Given that compliance is at risk here, such a decision must be made by the Board to ensure good governance. Board approval should be sought and recorded for the approach the organisation is taking.

It is essential that you continue to record your data on compliance and report to your board at all times, and that there is a clear audit trail for issues with access, and if appropriate to the Regulator. Access issues as a result of self-isolation should be readily identifiable.

Operatives need to be provided with the tools to operate in as safe a way as possible:

  • Checklist of questions to ascertain occupant’s current health
  • Protective equipment (masks, gloves, over clothing)

The Gas Safe website is a useful resource for updates: https://www.gassaferegister.co.uk/help-and-advice/covid-19-advice-and-guidance/

Can employees who are self-isolating or on sick leave be placed on Flexible Furlough?

Employers had the ability to furlough extremely vulnerable employees who needed to shield.

If your employee is on sick leave or self-isolating as a result of Coronavirus, including as a result of track and trace, they’ll be able to get Statutory Sick Pay, subject to other eligibility conditions applying.

There is no special exemption for them, so they would need to meet the usual requirements to be placed on Flexible Furlough after 1 July 2020. i.e. They had to have been placed on furlough for at least 3 weeks before 1 July. Otherwise, they could not be furloughed.

What measures can be taken without notification to the European Commission?

There have always been ways for public bodies to assist without being required to notify these for approval. These continue to be available during the financial crisis, and are likely to be increasingly useful for measures which need to be introduced quickly. The measures include:

Those where it is possible to conclude that there is no effect on trade between Member States – for example, measures which are likely to have only a limited local effect. The European Commission has concluded, for example, that measures to assist locally-focused cultural activity can be assumed to have no effect on inter-State trade. 

Those where it is possible to conclude that the State is acting in a way consistent with a commercial operator (the so-called Market Economy Operator Principle) – particular care will need to be taken in the context of current economic conditions to ensure that it can reasonably be asserted that a commercial operator would act in the same way as the public body.

Measures under the General Block Exemption Regulation – this legislation allows various types of aid, or aid schemes, to be employed.

Examples include aid for SMEs, aid for research and development, aid for local infrastructure and aid to ports and airports.

De Minimis Measures – Member States are permitted to grant small amounts of aid to undertakings over three fiscal years (the current year and the previous two years). This allows undertakings to receive up to €200,000 (or €500,000 where they are providing public services).