Legal Obligations of Business Owners during Covid-19


The novel Coronavirus pandemic seriously affected businesses, especially tourism and supply chain industries. As a result, extensive layoffs, salary freezes, and business closures became a norm, affecting the livelihood of a large number of people. However, employers and business owners should know that the pandemic doesn’t absolve their legal responsibilities towards their employees.

While they should find ways of strategizing and keeping afloat during these challenging times, they should also work within the provisions of employment laws. Below are some legal obligations that business owners should be cognizant of during this period.

Comply with Social Distancing and Business Travel Regulations

Most governments and states implemented travel restrictions and other measures aimed at curbing the spread of the virus. While these restrictions vary from one country and state to another, the general gist remains that non-essential business travel should be avoided, and any employee who had traveled should strictly isolate for the required period. Countries and states also imposed social distancing measures, banned social gatherings, and ordered the closure of areas where people congregated.

These restrictions came with heavy fines and jail terms for those who don’t observe. Unfortunately, most businesses don’t know that they can also face serious penalties if they don’t adhere to these measures. For instance, employers can suffer heavy fines if their employees don’t observe social distancing guidelines. Some businesses have resorted to terminating contracts with employees who intentionally break these regulations, which is legally permissible under employment laws.

Provide Safe and Healthy Workspace

Businesses worldwide are required to adhere to provisions of occupations health and safety legislation, which include the responsibility of employers to provide employees with a safe and healthy working environment. Other states include psychological health in these legislations.

As such, employers should take up their measures of containing the virus by introducing various steps to reduce employee exposure and possible stress from being infected. Apart from basic health hygiene, businesses should improve their cleaning, restrict visitors to their premises, provide protective equipment, and encourage non-essential staff to work from home.

Companies should also be wary that employment law allows employees to question their workplace safety, request the space to be made safe, or ask for redeployment if they find the workplace unsafe. In some states, employees can decline to attend to their duties and still demand compensation if their environment is unsafe and their request to be reassigned is denied.

Therefore, business owners shouldn’t be surprised if their employees raise such questions during this pandemic. Instead, they should offer plausible solutions and accommodation to concerned employees.

Provide Medical Benefits to Affected Employees

Employment laws mandate all employers to provide medical benefits to their employees, especially medical insurance. Employees may request a paid sick leave, compensation for medical consultation, reasonable accommodation due to medical conditions, and other medical benefits. The pandemic doesn’t affect these benefits. For instance, if the employment contract indicates that the employer should cover all the cost of their employees’ hospital stay, they should do so, regardless if the stay is due to Covid-19 or any other medical condition.

Pay Salaries Timely and in Full

Salaries and wages are a common legal issue between employers and employees. While employment laws grant employers the freedom to increase or decrease salaries, they should do so within the applicable laws and terms indicated in the employment contract. Unfortunately, most businesses have already eliminated bonuses, stopped wages, and effecting pay cuts by asking some employees to take unpaid leaves.

Despite being permissible in the law, employers should timely pay their employees any salaries owned and all other statutory requirements, including contributions to social security funds. Failure to comply with this is an offense that employees can seek legal redress.

Adhere to Retrenchment Regulations

As mentioned, the pandemic seriously affected the hospitality and aviation industries, leading to massive layoffs. Other affected businesses also retrenched their staff in a bid to cope with the low turnover. Just like salary reductions, employment law permits these actions. However, employers should demonstrate the cause of such retrenchments, such as restructuring or financial constraints. The pandemic is a sufficient legal cause for such layoffs.

That said, companies should comply with all retrenchment benefits to employees, which may vary. This includes severance payments and other forms of compensation, such as housing benefits, unused leaves, and other terms previously stated in the employment contract.

Legal battles between employers and employees will likely increase during this tough economic period. Some employers might act in utter disregard of employment laws and employment contracts, especially during terminations or forcing employees to take unpaid leave. Employers may also deny employee requests for leave according to FMLA provisions, which goes against employment laws. For such situations, affected employees should contact a Family Medical Leave Act Lawyer for legal actions.

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