Will remote court hearings be permitted?
Court hearings have been conducted remotely, with the judgment in Kerry v SSCLG being given via telephone. The Senior President of Tribunals issued emergency Practice Directions which will apply to Property and Lands Chambers’ respectively. This has made provision for remote hearings. Inspections of properties have been suspended with immediate effect, with photographs, videos or external visits permitted where appropriate. Where inspections are essential, the case should be stayed.
The obvious option to reduce the cost of your workforce is redundancy. However, that also reduces the number of employees and therefore your capacity.
This is critical. The guidance remains clear – IF YOU CAN WORK FROM HOME YOU SHOULD CONTINUE TO DO SO. Bringing people back into work unnecessarily is a big mistake.
Think about how many employees should physically return to the workplace – the fewer the people on site, the lower the risk AND the less pressure on public transport.
Employers will need to be very careful to recognise workers in vulnerable groups or who develop or live in a household with someone who develops symptoms of Covid-19 – again, look at government guidelines. You should understand that this will mean a higher number of staff absences and consider how this might be managed.
Look to keep smaller teams of workers together, minimise physical meetings and if you MUST have them, keep them short and under 15 minutes. Be imaginative – use online platforms like Teams and Zoom wherever you can.
With the outbreak of coronavirus leading to a requirement for more employees to be working remotely, especially following Government advice that all non-essential travel including to and from work should be avoided, there has been an increased requirement for businesses to be more flexible in their approach to signing contracts.
The traditional approach has been for contracts to be printed and signed with a “wet ink” signature. However, this is not a strict legal requirement in the majority of circumstances and contracts can be formed without this degree of formality. English law recognises that contracts can be formed by electronic means – including the exchange of emails or the typing of a name into a document to signify agreement to it.
Whilst this approach offers a lot of flexibility, more sophisticated electronic signature tools are recommended for important documents, to enable the identity of the signatory to be validated and reduce the possibility of fraud.
If businesses are considering changing their contracting processes because of coronavirus, or because of a general shift towards paperless working, it is important to ensure that proper approval processes remain in place, and to consider whether a software tool should be used to complement them. Systems such as DocuSign are widely used.
There also remain some situations where legal advice is recommended before relying on an electronic signature:
- Where the other party is abroad – as local laws that are different from English law might apply
- If executing a deed – the law requires certain types of document to be executed as a deed (for example, transfers of land and powers of attorney), and the issues around electronic signature and witnessing are more complicated here
The guidance asks parties to act responsibly and fairly in performing and enforcing contracts. They are encouraged to act in a spirit of cooperation to achieve practical, just and equitable outcomes. In essence, rather than sticking strictly to the contract as agreed, they are encouraged to give each other leeway to deliver performance differently than they are required to do under the contract.
Employees who are union or non-union representatives may undertake duties and activities for the purpose of individual or collective representation of employees or other workers. However in doing this, they must not provide services to or generate revenue for, or on behalf of your organisation or a linked or associated organisation.
Employees who are pension scheme trustees or trustee directors of a corporate trustee may also undertake trustee duties in relation to the pension scheme. However, a professional, independent pension scheme trustee who has been furloughed by the independent trustee company cannot undertake trustee work that would provide services to or generate revenue for, or on behalf of, the independent trustee company or any organisation linked or associated with that independent trustee company during hours when they are recorded as being on furlough.