Which agreements will qualify for exemption?
There are four criteria which must be satisfied if an agreement is to be considered exempt:
- It must improve production or distribution, or promoting technical or economic progress – the guidance suggests that cooperation ensuring essential goods and services can be made available to the public, or an important sub-set of the public such as key workers, will satisfy this criterion.
- It must allow consumers a fair share of the resulting benefit – the guidance suggests this will be the case where the action prevents or reduces shortages.
- It must not impose on the undertakings concerned restrictions which are not indispensable to the attainment of the above benefits – the guidance suggests this will be the case where the cooperation is the only reasonable option due to the urgency of the crisis and where the cooperation is temporary in nature.
- It must not afford the undertakings concerned the possibility of eliminating competition – therefore the parties must endeavour to retain competition in respect of the products (in particular price competition).
There are several options that can be used at this time to try and settle disputes. If it is not possible to settle a dispute via direct discussions between the parties then some form of Alternative Dispute Resolution (“ADR”) might be appropriate. Mediation is the most popular form of ADR. Most people’s perception of mediation is that it needs to be in person but that does not have to be the case.
Mediation can take place online or on the telephone. Most, if not all, ADR providers remain open for business and are quickly changing their business model to ensure that mediations can still take place. Mediation can be arranged at reasonably short notice and certainly so far as the online model is concerned, it mirrors the process that is adopted when parties appear in person. Online mediation allows for joint sessions with the mediator to take place and also for the parties to break out into their respective rooms for private discussions. If a dispute settles at mediation – and the vast majority do – then the agreement reached between the parties is binding and can be enforced.
A group of senior former judges and legal academics have now called for an acceleration in the use of ADR in light of the current circumstances. They have stated that courts should promote “and where appropriate require” the use of ADR. Mediation has particularly seen an increase in growth at this time.
ADR normally results in a quicker outcome than if the matter proceeds in the courts. Due to its conciliatory nature it is a very useful process where parties continue to be in a trading relationship. Contracting parties should also consider building ADR into dispute resolution clauses in their contracts so that in the event there is a dispute the focus is on resolving the dispute as soon as possible before it escalates into litigation.”
The Government acknowledges that there may need to be some flexibility to enable developers to meet any existing s106 obligations, in particular financial contributions, during the current health crisis and in recent guidance it encourages Councils “to consider whether it would be appropriate to allow the developer to defer delivery”. However, the Government considers that the existing arrangements for varying a section 106 agreement by way of a deed are sufficient and will not be legislating for any additional temporary mechanisms.
In the absence of any formal variation, the Government does however advise Councils to take a “pragmatic and proportionate approach” to enforcement of planning obligations at the current time.
The Government’s advice does not refer to concerns over the quantum of any planning obligations but is concerned only with the timing for delivery. However, the viability behind many sites is likely to change as a result of temporary site closures, or the availability of construction materials and labour once sites can re-open. Where there is already a s106 agreement in place, a developer may wish to renegotiate their position on the basis that certain planning obligations are no longer affordable.
Where a s106 agreement was entered into longer than 5 years ago, an application can be made to the Council to formally vary a planning obligation that is now “without purpose”. Any refusals can be appealed to the Secretary of State.
Where a s106 agreement was entered into within the last 5 years, the agreement can only be modified with the agreement of the Council. The ability to renegotiate a s106 agreement will therefore come down to the willingness of the Council to accept the revised viability position. Where Councils are willing to consider this, a robust viability assessment agreed with the Council is likely to be needed.
Every company has to file accounts at Companies House every year. If they are filed late, a fine is automatically levied. If there is a long delay in filing them, the directors are at risk of prosecution and the Registrar of Companies might start a process which could ultimately lead to the company being struck from the register.
However, Companies House has recognised that businesses might currently face exceptional problems in preparing and filing their accounts on time and so have posted a notice on their website which says that if immediately before the filing deadline, it becomes apparent that accounts will not be filed on time due to coronavirus, you can make an application to extend the period allowed for filing.
Whilst many employees may now have the resources and equipment to work from home, an employee may struggle to effectively work from home for a number of reasons. For example, an employee may not have a suitable working environment where they can work without being disturbed or alternatively, working from home for prolonged periods of time may be having a detrimental impact on the employee’s mental well-being.
In circumstances such as these, employers must carry out a careful assessment. Unfortunately, there is not any specific guidance as to when an individual cannot ‘reasonably’ work from home – it is likely that each case will be fact specific.
In relation to employees who are struggling with their mental well-being, employers owe their employees a duty of care. It is crucial that procedures are in place which will enable an employer to recognise the signs of stress as early as possible. In the circumstances, it may be appropriate to allow an employee to attend their place of work if this would help alleviate work-related stress or to prevent mental health issues.
If you do not have a justifiable reason for insisting that your employees have the vaccine (see FAQ above) your employee could resign and bring a claim of constructive unfair dismissal if they have more than 2 years’ continuous employment. This would be on the basis that you have breached trust and confidence.
If the vaccine includes pig gelatine (as many do), and the employee refuses on religious or because they are vegan, you may face a claim for discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.