COVID-19 Shreds Employment Contracts
The outbreak of this novel coronavirus christened COVID-19, has certainly changed the world's economic and social order. Everywhere in the world, both formal and informal sector business has been affected either positively or negatively. Those that have been affected positively are largely those that operated in direct response to this global pandemic, including events revolving around social gatherings (soccer, religious activities, conferences, entertainments, etc.
In mostly the formal sector, many offices have been closed down, albeit temporarily with directives from employers to employees to work from home employing. Some very essential offices have also put in place discrete measures such as work shifts and rotation, social distancing, etc. all in a bid to safeguard lives while keeping business operations going. A current global survey conducted in 2020 by the International Labour Organization (ILO) reveals that the current COVID-19 pandemic has affected four in five of the world's workforce, that is estimated at 2.7 billion workers. This raises a critical issue of employment contracts, and whether employees are even privy to or aware of the implications of the contracts they sign with their employers.
There are various definitions of employment contracts that flood the internet but they all share a common interpretation. “Employment Contract” may be defined as a written down agreement between an employer and employee specifying the work to be done by the employee, the benefits and the remuneration they will receive for the work done. In most cases, termination clauses are inserted in employment contracts, and these dwells mostly on employees' inefficiency or the failure or termination of the business. Unless specified otherwise, compensations are given to the employee who loses a job borne out of the termination of a project or the collapse of such.
The outbreak of COVID-19 will see some employers either maintain or make changes to employee contract by activating various clauses in the contract. Daily reports on the slashing of salaries are rife on all news media. For examples. Due to the postponement of football games across Europe, salaries of footballers in some countries are being slashed. The likely changes in employee contract may trigger legal clauses such as Force Majeure in written employee contracts. The Force majeure clause gives the employer the right to suspend or terminate employee contract when the situation is beyond the control of the employer and the employee. In other cases, employers can ask employees to take forced leave with or without pay. Also, employers may make changes to normal work hours to salvage a situation such as the spread of the COVID-19 disease.
To ensure that these measure work well both parties may have to come to a mutual consensus. It is therefore expected that to avoid mass dismissals, long legal tussles between employees and their employers, al employers, whether in the formal or informal sectors, whether in the manufacturing or service sector, whether in the small and medium scale enterprises or big businesses, whether governmental or non-governmental, should be proactive enough to engage their staff in productive discussions that will secure both parties a win-win situation.
Let us all work together as stakeholders of a corporate world to avert unemployment, hunger and malnutrition, and associated social vices like murder, suicide, prostitution and robbery because these are the trails of our unseen enemy, COVID-19.
UN News: https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/04/1061322
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