Getting economies back on their feet whilst trying to control the spread of an invisible killer. Those are the general aims of responding to Covid-19 – the world’s most unwelcome recent visitor. All economies that have the resources are more or less following similar practices such as social distancing (at least indoors, many also outdoors), use of masks and other protective equipment, washing, sanitisers and testing. It can be assumed that all these measures are common in the jurisdictions referred to in this article.
“It is not easy to predict when vulnerable employees will safely be able to return to work. Until a vaccine is found, Covid has and will continue to fundamentally to change the workplace as we have known it.”
Some jurisdictions have successfully rolled out tracking to ensure that anyone infected, or the authorities themselves, can contact those that they have been in contact with. These practices, now regarded as good or essential relative to Covid, have therefore become the norm as regards safeguarding the workforce on the workplace. It is not easy to predict when vulnerable employees will safely be able to return to work. Until a vaccine is found, Covid has and will continue to fundamentally to change the workplace as we have known it.
A number of developed countries have introduced a range of financial incentives to employers to encourage them not to make employees redundant as a result of the reduction in commercial activity. These include furlough payments and other financial incentives.
China, where there is firm central control, Covid is reported to be well under control, and the entire focus has been on rapid damage limitation. A return to apparent normality commenced in China probably sooner than any other major economy. Home working replaced work and remains a reality. But many offices and shops have re-opened along with schools. Everyone wears masks outside and in the workplace and generally is monitored through their mobile devices.
Outbreaks are immediately tackled by local lockdown and quarantine. Social distancing is practised at work. Working times have been flexed so that employees attend work at different times. Some local authorities are suggesting that companies opt for a longer weekend, the idea being that more time off will encourage more spending.
In the USA still seeing increasing infection rates, the throes of COVID, but with pressure to restart the economy, homeworking remains the norm for all with that option. Unfortunately, Covid has become a political football, with the wearing of masks, a key protective measure, being rejected by some as a restriction on individual freedom. In the workplace, employers are legally required to ensure the workplace is safe and so are obliged to address issues of sanitation, provide PPE, proper training, make physical modifications to the workplace, and consider effective employee scheduling. Most employers are clearly taking these obligations seriously. Home working remains the norm for many office-based workers.
In the UK, Government as in many other European countries, has taken the lead in stipulating what can and cannot happen, and what measures should be adopted where. Home working continues to be very common, with many employers questioning the need for their existing offices, given that home working has worked well for many and that it is very difficult to foresee when normality can resume.
Many offices have now technically re-opened but given the social distancing rules and general concern about travelling on public transport, there is generally no move to compel employees to return to their offices. And with modern day open plan work spaces resulting from increased property costs and fit out costs, it is clear that such office spaces are unsuited to the reality of Covid. Controlling the number of people in the office, providing sanitisation, PPE, regular deep cleaning. In addition, with retail re-opening, screens at counters, non-acceptance of cash, wearing of gloves, have become the norm.
Sweden is worthy of mention because it did not lockdown, Shops, restaurants and gyms remained open. There have been 5482 deaths as at 8 July 2020 which based on a population of 10 million, means its death rate is 40% higher than the United States and 12 times more than in Norway and 6 times more than in Denmark. Yet economically it has also been hammered, no doubt because of the interdependency of the economies of most developed countries today. Significantly there are no Covid 19 specific obligations for employers. The guidelines for employers are based on the normal hygiene recommendations such as keeping your distance, washing hands etc. A government enquiry has been launched as the nation’s mood has shifted against the Government’s very different approach to Covid, compared to other European nations, having seen little economic benefit from its very different approach.
The Developing World
In other less wealthy parts of the world living conditions are very different which has a direct impact on the ability to work from home. Also, there is more manual labour and less office working generally, making home working less of an option. There are fewer resource to pay for necessary medical facilities, PPE and tests which many developed countries take for granted. Therefore, such countries face severe consequences as a result of Covid. India has been in strict lockdown. Reports suggest that 122m people have lost their jobs due to the impact of Covid with unemployment numbers up to 27.1%.
However, as the ancient Persian adage reminds us, ‘This too shall pass’. If Covid 19 has affected your businesses operations – wherever they may be around the world – Briars Group stands ready to offer assistance and advice to help you address the challenges facing your workforce. You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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