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COVID19: Out of quarantine and into the fire?

So we are currently is Stage 2 of the coming out of lockdown process.

Well, what has your reaction been as a business? Have you been burying your head, relaxing and waiting it out, stressing or were you and your staff planning as a business what to do now so that you can resurrect or thrive when the lockdown ends?

Cynthia McFarlane's COVID19 Out of Quarantine and into the fire webinar at the Horse Tech Conference on 1st June 2020

The effect

Businesses in the UK which are reportedly already affected by COVID19 by March 2020 included Flybe, Debenhams, Warehouse, Oasis, Cath Kidston, Carluccio’s restaurant, Chiquito’s restaurant along with other retailers temporary closed. Some of effects of COVID19 are perhaps foreseen such as loss of business, loss of employees and some perhaps unforeseen such as homelessness.

I do not have to tell you that as a country we have been socially distancing and furloughing staff and currently the UK government’s response is to decide to defer tax and VAT to 2021 and is providing a variety of business loans in addition to the state universal credit benefit that already exists for individuals who qualify. This action in respect of finances, taken by the UK Government brought to my mind an old quote from a former Prime Minister, “we’re all in this together!” [1].

It is all and well good the government giving the impression that “we’re all in this in together” but what has been clear over this coronavirus period is that disputes have sprung up between individuals and businesses surrounding whether businesses should continue operating with or without restrictions given the government guidance, employment contractual issues have arisen and I predict that after lockdown there will be disputes arising as to the way in which particular businesses handled the Coronavirus period from both staff and consumer, breaches of contract as to performance during this period and issues as to debt recovery and enforcement of debt.

So “we’re all in this together”…until we’re not!

My advice would be for businesses to use the time afforded to them in the current climate to prevent disputes by doing the following:-

· Budget for legal issues (if this happens to be possible)

· Review insurance policies

· Maintain or promote staff morale

· Keep in touch with staff if permissible (cf. contacting staff during furlough to undertake work)

· Review clauses in staff contracts

· Consider inclusion or review of an ADR (alternative dispute resolution) clause

· Undertake risk assessments

· Review your work policies

On 7th May 2020 the UK Government issued COVID19 Guidance: Responsible Contractual Behaviour & Enforcement of contracts[2] which sets out guidance and recommendations for parties to active contracts materially impacted by COVID19. It encourages parties to act in a spirit of cooperation and aims to achieve practical, just and equitable outcomes having regard to the other party, the availability of financial resources, the protection of the public and the national interest. The parties are strongly encouraged to resolve contractual issues through negotiation, mediation or other alternative fast track dispute resolution before they escalate into formal intractable disputes.

The aforementioned guidance encourages alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and expressly includes ‘mediation’ by way of example. Mediation is a fast process which avoids the time and cost of litigation. It can be used at any stage pre-action, during litigation and during the court process. A mediator is chosen by the parties and their role is to facilitate the parties’ dispute. The mediation day typically starts with a joint session with the parties and the mediator if all parties agree before the parties splitting into individual sessions with the mediator. It is essential that the person with authority to settle the dispute is either present during the mediation or accessible via telephone or online. The mediator will shuttle between the parties attempting to facilitate resolution of the dispute, to enable the parties to reach their settlement agreement. For a number of years, mediation has now also been available remotely or online. This allows the parties more choice and freedom if the parties have issues with meeting in the same location nationally or internationally. In the event that the parties are unable to reach a settlement agreement the discussions and negotiations remain confidential. Mediation is also a popular choice for parties in particular where they would like to consider a confidential clause as to publicity protecting a party from potential damage to their business or reputation.

Some tips from me as a mediator

· Be open minded as to the outcome of the mediation (eg. initially you may expect to end a business relation with a party but during the process you may even repair a business working relationship)

· Choose a mediator based on their CV or expertise

· Have a pre-mediation party discussion or meeting with the mediator if this is available

· Decide whether being represented at the mediation will be an advantage or disadvantage in your particular dispute

· Consider whether a third party attending the mediation will help or hinder you in your particular mediation

For my full list of ‘Essential tips’, further information as to the benefits of mediation or what our “New Normal” may look like post-lockdown please do not hesitate to contact me here. Alternatively, to book me as a mediator and for terms and conditions please see my website

Also, to assist during the coronavirus period I am offering businesses a free legal business strategy call for whatever stage you are at during the 3 stage legal process (see below). To take advantage of this opportunity please do not hesitate to contact me on 0774 509 6292.


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