WASHINGTON, D.C. and HOUSTON, March 11, 2020 – To help address the concerns of its clients, colleagues and friends affected by the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19), Baker Botts L.L.P. has assembled a multidisciplinary Coronavirus (COVID-19) Crisis Response Group, compiled an accompanying resource kit, and is providing daily social media updates on the rapidly evolving situation.
The firm is advising clients on a number of fronts related to the outbreak, including on issues related to crisis response, business interruption, cybersecurity/data privacy, impact on SEC disclosures for public companies, force majeure clauses, employee/human resources issues and leadership succession. A link to the firm’s resource kit, which will be updated regularly, can be found here.
The multidisciplinary Coronavirus (COVID-19) Crisis Response Group is co-led by Baker Botts partners Scott Janoe, Steve Solow and Nadira Clarke of the firm’s Environmental, Safety & Incident Response Section.
“These resources draw from the experience of our global, cross-practice and multidisciplinary group of attorneys,” Mr. Janoe said. “In the recent past, our firm has helped clients in dealing with large-scale industrial accidents and environmental disasters and in addressing the rapidly evolving cybersecurity and data privacy landscape, among other things.”
“In addition to the firm’s company-side experience, we are also fortunate to be able to rely on lawyers with extensive government experience as leaders and members of teams charged with responding to environmental crises, privacy issues and international acts of terrorism,” Mr. Solow said.
Below is an overview of some of the Crisis Response Group’s areas of focus.
Companies – regardless of geography – are faced with the daunting task of making critical decisions with imperfect information. Baker Botts has distilled advice from its crisis response team that may be useful as companies engage in response planning.
COVID-19 raises a host of potential cybersecurity and data privacy concerns. These include: (i) potential increased cybersecurity risk as a result of more employees working remotely; (ii) COVID-19 based “phishing” scams in which malicious actors send emails or other electronic messages purporting to be government, health care or charitable organizations; and (iii) potential privacy concerns related to an employer’s solicitation or collection of employees’ personal health and/or travel information.
Potential Impact on SEC Disclosures for Public Companies
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has recognized that COVID-19 raises “potential compliance issues” for companies with SEC reporting obligations. To help alleviate such issues, on March 4, 2020, the SEC announced that, subject to certain conditions, companies impacted by COVID-19 would have an additional 45 days to file certain disclosure reports and schedules that would otherwise have been due between March 1 and April 30, 2020. Among other conditions, companies must file a Form 8-K or Form 6-K summarizing why the relief is needed in their particular circumstances.
Force Majeure Clauses
In the coming months, the firm expects to see claims that the COVID-19 outbreak prevents parties from performing their obligations under a contract, because the outbreak is an “act of God.”
Employee/Human Resources Issues
As COVID-19 spreads, employers will need to navigate a complex web of issues to protect their workforce as employees become ill, employees’ family members become ill, and as employees continue to travel to countries under a CDC travel alert.
At the same time, employers must tread carefully. Discrimination based on national origin is prohibited by federal and state anti-discrimination laws such as Title VII.
Employers should also review their sick leave, paid time off, and short-term disability policies to determine whether any special adjustments should be made in the event their workplace is part of the outbreak.
With increasing travel restrictions, potential quarantines, and government-encouraged social distancing, the coronavirus increases the risk that companies may be without key leaders for an extended period. Baker Botts has regularly advised clients on leadership succession and similar issues.
Tax relief is one of the tools that the U.S. government will be utilizing to help address the effects of COVID-19. In addition to advising you on new tax laws and administrative announcements, our Tax Team will also help you navigate existing tax law to minimize your tax burden in these tumultuous times. Guidance on COVID-19 related tax issues may be found here.
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Baker Botts is an international law firm whose lawyers practice throughout a network of offices around the globe. Based on our experience and knowledge of our clients' industries, we are recognized as a leading firm in the energy, technology and life sciences sectors. Since 1840, we have provided creative and effective legal solutions for our clients while demonstrating an unrelenting commitment to excellence. For more information, please visit bakerbotts.com.