How might the transition to a “new normal” impact on contracts?
The workplace will not revert to its pre-Covid-19 state overnight, with social distancing in the work place likely to remain in place for quite some time to come.
This could mean that businesses will need to think carefully about how their capacity will be impacted, and how this will affect their ability to perform contractual obligations.
For example, if a business has an outsourcing contract under which it has to perform a business process, or produce a particular output, will it be able to comply with contractual performance standards whilst social distancing is still in place? In the context of a manufacturing business, what will be the impact on production schedules and delivery dates? There might also be an impact on operating costs, for example if processes are changed and additional shifts are introduced – can these additional costs be sustained?
Businesses need to plan a safe system of work for their employees to ensure they comply with Health and Safety legislation, but they also need to consider how this will impact on their ability to perform pre-existing contractual obligations. Ultimately, contractual arrangements with customers might need to remain on a revised footing for a number of months.
Getting to a point where agreement is reached on allocation of additional costs and/or changes to key elements of a contract such as scope of work, performance standards and delivery date will require co-operation between contracting parties. Again, it is important that any variations that are agreed are recorded properly and follow the required contractual procedures.