What is happening about court and arbitration hearings?
The courts are seeking to adapt to our new circumstances and have urgently been looking to introduce new ways of working. The courts have been testing out different ways of holding court hearings. The advice is changing almost daily and some courts have been developing local practices. Going forward the court, the parties and their representatives will need to be more proactive about all forthcoming hearings.
Everyone involved in the case is to consider as far ahead as possible how future hearings should best be undertaken and work collaboratively. It will normally be possible for all short, interlocutory, or non-witness, applications to be heard remotely. Some witness cases will also be suitable for remote hearings. The parties just need to ensure that everyone involved can use the technology suggested.
The courts have been looking at and held remote hearings using, non-exhaustively, BT conference call, Skype for Business, court video link, BT MeetMe, Zoom and ordinary telephone call. Bundles for the hearing will be prepared and circulated electronically.
If the hearing cannot be held remotely because the parties do not have the requisite technology or the length of the hearing combined with the number of parties or overseas parties, representatives and/or witnesses make it undesirable to go ahead with a hearing in court at the current time, then it may be that the case will need to be adjourned. We are hearing of trials being adjourned and that they will not be re-listed before at least September.
HMCTS has advised that several priority courts will remain open during the coronavirus pandemic to make sure the justice system continues to operate effectively. It publishes a daily operational update from the courts and they aim to update it by 9am. The link is https://www.gov.uk/guidance/hmcts-daily-operational-summary-on-courts-and-tribunals-during-coronavirus-covid-19-outbreak.
Also, the courts have circulated a civil listing priority list with Priority 1 listing work which must be done and which includes injunctions, any applications in cases listed for trial in the next three months, any applications where there is a substantial hearing listed in the next month and all Multi Track hearings where parties agree that it is urgent.
In the Priority 2 list, which consists of hearings which could be done, are enforcement of trading contracts, trial involving the survival of a business or the insolvency of an individual, small and fast track trials where the parties say they are urgent, and appeal in these kinds of cases.
Similarly, in arbitration proceedings, the parties and arbitrators are being encouraged to utilise technology to make sure that hearings take place. We have heard of Zoom being used very successfully for multi-party proceedings.
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.
A claim for indirect discrimination is the most likely risk here. The first point to make is that the decision to review duties is being made based on the growing amount of medical evidence that the BAME community is being disproportionately adversely affected by the COVID 19 pandemic compared to other ethnic groups. The key is to ensure that blanket policy decisions are not taken, nor should assumptions be made about the risk to each individual concerned. Decisions should only be made on an individual basis with an open dialogue with the individual concerned. You as their employer, need to ensure that the individual feels listened to and heard; that this is not just a tick box exercise.
Consider having a working group which has an overview of the policy decisions being made. That working group should contain representatives from across the staff groups including staff side, but importantly, representatives from different ethnic backgrounds to ensure the important voices are heard. Accountability should be built into that group. This group should also be a safe environment for staff to raise concerns about their health and safety and safe systems at work.
All of the measures announced above are aimed at all employers in the UK and are not sector specific. However, over and above these measures the Chancellor also announced a number of financial measures that he hopes will save jobs in the hospitality industry such as the reduction of VAT on food and drink and the “eat out to help out” scheme which has already taken place. The Job Support Scheme is designed to support businesses who face lower demand due to the pandemic, and so is designed to have an impact on those sectors most badly hit.
As with a Will, your solicitor can take instructions by telephone, Skype or a similar tool. Your solicitor can then post or email the documentation to you. As with Wills, your signature and those of your proposed Attorneys will need to be witnessed, but in this case only by one other person. However, there are specific requirements as to who can witness your signature. The witness must be aged 18 or older and cannot be your Attorney but they can be your Certificate Provider.
Your Certificate Provider must either be someone you have known personally for at least two years or an appropriate professional. However, they must not be your Attorney and they must not be a member of your family or the partner, boyfriend or girlfriend of a member of your family or a business partner or employee of yours.
Also, if you are living in a care home, the Certificate Provider cannot be the owner, manager, director or employee of the home you live in.
Given the current restrictions on movement, if you have regular medical checks you could ask your GP or another medical professional to witness your signature and act as your Certificate Provider when you go to see them or they come to you. Alternatively, if someone you have known for two years or more is dropping off essentials, they could act as a witness and Certificate Provider remembering to retain the necessary distance and protective measures.
Concerning your Attorney(s) you cannot act as their witness. Otherwise, anyone aged 18 or older can act as their witness, including the other Attorney. Ideally, a witness to your or your Attorney’s signatures should not be a family member for the sake of impartiality and to avoid disputes. If necessary they can be.
The Regulations do not require any prior agreement between an employer and employee that it was not reasonably practicable for holiday to be taken for it to be carried over.
However, if an employee requests holiday then an employer must have ‘good reason’ for refusing it due to coronavirus. The term ‘good reason’ is not defined so the Government will expect employers, employees and (if necessary on any dispute) the Courts to apply common sense.
The Regulations are not confined to key workers so could, in principle, be used by employers for a wider range of employees.
The Government guidance suggests that the following factors should be taken into account when considering whether it was reasonably practicable to take the leave in the relevant year:
- Whether the business has faced a significant increase in demand due to COVID-19 that would reasonably require the worker to continue to be at work and cannot be met through alternative practical measures.
- The extent to which the business’ workforce is disrupted by COVID-19 and the practical options available to the business to provide temporary cover of essential activities.
- The health of the worker and how soon they need to take a period of rest and relaxation.
- The length of time remaining in the worker’s leave year.
- The extent to which the worker taking leave would impact on wider society’s response to, and recovery from, the effects of COVID-19.
- The ability of the remainder of the available workforce to provide cover for the worker going on leave.