Legal consequences of Covid-19

The civil service may not have to worry about employment or salaries during and after the Movement Control Order (MCO).

The same may not be so for private sector employees. In fact, daily wage earners are already affected as businesses have been forced to close.

Companies may also resort to retrenchment, salary cuts and other measures.

Besides the economic consequences, a host of legal issues can arise – from contractual obligations to immigration issues such as visa renewal.

This is where the Home Ministry and the Immigration Department would want to monitor compassionately.

I do not know if the government will take the responsibility for the welfare of migrant workers or pass on the burden to the worker’s country. Besides humanitarian consideration, it may also involve international laws and trade treaties between the said nations.

The contracts of monthly wage earners may be subject to the Employment Act 1955. Issues such as retrenchment, wage cuts and forced annual leave may arise if their company is adversely affected by the MCO.

I cannot imagine the extent of the domino effect on the economic chain. The corresponding legal domino effect will see businesses trying to mitigate their legal losses.

It would certainly be tough to balance the welfare of the companies and the employees, especially when the business is adversely affected.

The financial aspect has always been a sensitive and difficult matter to handle. Hence, there may also be commercial contractual disputes ranging from the supply chain, the demand side or even ongoing or proposed joint ventures.

Some parties may use the pandemic as an excuse to get out of a contract. Some joint venture projects or terms of the contract may have to be revisited. These may require legal renegotiating or mediation.

The argument of whether Covid-19 may be considered a force majeure may also arise and would require looking into the contract document. Briefly, a force majeure clause in the contract may allow a party not to perform either the whole or part of the contract. There are many contracts without such a clause.

Would the courts view this pandemic as something that is not reasonably foreseeable and therefore allow the non-performance of the whole or part of the contract? Legal clauses or absence thereof can have major economic consequences on the parties to the contract. Hence, once again, economic interest of all parties will have to be considered in any litigation.

There are countless business situations that can arise as a result of the pandemic, whereby rights will be affected, obligations not fulfilled, and losses incurred.

For example, the MCO would have halted the renovation of a house. Once the renovation is allowed to resume, the house owner may be confronted with numerous possibilities – the workers and/or the renovation company are no longer functional or want to continue, the prices of the materials may have gone up and the owner is not happy with it and so on.

There will be many areas of dispute when economic interest and legal rights are involved.

Meanwhile, those who are Covid-19 carriers are responsible for quarantining themselves and need to take all reasonable precautions.

This legal onus is compounded if you recklessly mingle with others. I believe this legal duty to care for others will continue even after the MCO.

Evidence and proof is another matter during trial.

Whether it is the World War or the various pandemics which we have seen from 450BC (the Athenian plague) to the 1918 flu pandemic and now Covid-19, life has to go on. As long as life goes on, there will be differences of views on how things should be done, including enforcement and governance.

Hence, I also do not dismiss the possibility of legal suits against government agencies for violation of human rights, improper exercise of power, and damage caused to some citizens because government departments failed to function appropriately during the MCO resulting in loss or injury to someone. The list goes on.

I am not encouraging any of this but merely making an educated legal guess.

Anyway, let’s all be safe heath-wise but protect our rights and prevent abuse of the situation for anyone’s selfish benefit.

This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Twentytwo13.

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