To help address the needs of our clients and friends affected by the outbreak of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), Baker Botts has put together a Resource Kit, drawing from the experience of our global, cross-practice and multi-disciplinary group of attorneys and practitioners. In the recent past, our team has helped clients in dealing with large scale industrial accidents and environmental disasters, in litigating high-stakes cross-border disputes, and in addressing the rapidly evolving cybersecurity and data privacy landscape. We also draw on extensive government experience as leaders and members of teams charged with responding to environmental crises, privacy issues, and international acts of terrorism.
Below, we provide an overview of certain issues we expect to see, or have seen, as a result of COVID-19 and include links to resources on those issues.
Companies – regardless of geography – are faced with the daunting task of making critical decisions with imperfect information. We have distilled advice from our Crisis Response Team that may be useful as companies engage in response planning. Click here for a detailed resource guide on COVID-19 considerations.
COVID-19 raises a host of potential cybersecurity and data privacy concerns. These include:
- Potential increased cybersecurity risk as a result of more employees working remotely
- COVID-19 based “phishing” scams in which malicious actors send emails or other electronic messages purporting to be government, health care, or charitable organizations
- Potential privacy concerns related to an employer’s solicitation or collection of employees’ personal health and/or travel information
Click here for more insight on COVID-19 specific cybersecurity and data privacy concerns.
Further, to the extent companies do collect personal health information (PHI) of employees, we provide general guidance on PHI collection here.
Potential Impact on SEC Disclosures for Public Companies
For its part, 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. We provide more detail on the SEC’s announcement here.
Force Majeure Clauses
In the coming months, we are likely 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.” Our team has significant experience in interpreting and addressing so-called “force majeure” clauses in natural disasters and other extraordinary events.
Human Resources and Benefits Issues
As COVID-19 has become a pandemic, employers are navigating a complex web of issues to protect their workforces as employees develop symptoms of the virus, travel restrictions are being implemented by the government and by employers, and schools are closing or conducting classes remotely.
In the United States, federal law requires employers “to provide their employees with working conditions that are free of known dangers.” The Occupational Health and Safety Administration has published guidance for employers on how to address this obligation in connection with COVID-19, emphasizing that “[e]xisting OSHA standards apply to protecting workers from” COVID-19.
We have created an overview of the HR and employee benefits issues that employers are navigating in the current environment, which is changing daily. The considerations we have outlined are intended to provide a framework for employers to take into account in managing issues from day to day without losing sight of their long-term goals.
Click here for additional insight on Employer Considerations for Managing Through COVID-19.
As IP entities throughout the world respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and adjust their operations accordingly, we want to keep our clients informed so that they do not miss any deadlines or obligations during this tumultuous time. To that end, we provide the following report, which briefly outlines the approach by various courts, IP offices, and other government agencies. We will continue to update this information as the situation develops. Click here for the latest details.
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.
With increasing travel restrictions, potential quarantines, and government-encouraged social distancing, the coronavirus increases the risk companies may be without key leaders for extended periods. Our partners have repeatedly advised clients on leadership succession and similar issues.
Our team will continue to monitor the COVID-19 outbreak and update this site regularly. While we all hope that COVID-19 is quickly contained, our cross-disciplinary team stands ready to help you anticipate and address this global crisis.