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24 March 2020

Shand Taylor Lawyers remains open and operating in these challenging times.  We continue to follow all Government and Queensland Health recommendations and we are adhering to strict hygiene and social distancing standards for the safety of our staff and any visitors to our office. 

We have been operating in a paperless file environment for more than 10 years, so we are well placed to handle all challenges that will arise over coming weeks and months to work remotely and run our business normally and without interruption when required. 

Importantly, we recognise that these difficult times can create stress and uncertainty for those running businesses and those working in or with businesses affected by the current health crisis.  Please be assured we stand ready and able to assist with any issues you may be facing, including:

Employment Law

The Coronavirus pandemic will inevitably lead to business closures, redundancies and the termination of employment.  Business owners need clear and practical advice as to what their legal rights and obligations are when employees go into COVID-19 isolation, work from home, or must be dismissed because the business can no longer afford to employ them.

There are also measures businesses can take in order to minimise the impact on their business and reduce or defer the need to terminate the employment of valued workers.  This may include employees taking voluntary annual or long service leave, unpaid leave or the standing down of non-essential services. 

We are able to assist employers and employees to navigate through the employment issues caused by the Coronavirus pandemic in a way that is fair, reasonable and in full compliance with Australian employment law.

Contracts and Property 

Failure to comply with your contractual obligations will not necessarily be excused by current events caused by COVID-19.  It is essential that all contracts be reviewed to determine their enforceability in these times.  

‘Force majeure’ clauses commonly appear in contracts to limit liability between parties for losses resulting from large-scale events.  Whether or not the COVID-19 outbreak is a force majeure event will depend on the terms of the clause in question.  In the absence of a force majeure clause, contractual obligations may be unenforceable where the contract is ‘frustrated’.  This means the obligations are incapable of performance, which is often onerous to prove.  You may also consider negotiating a commercial arrangement to help navigate this period of uncertainty.  

Similarly, REIQ land sale contracts have provisions relating to certain “Delay Events” but these may not be sufficient for your circumstances if you are a buyer and have been indirectly impacted by COVID-19.  Developers with projects due to settle will also need to be proactive in reaching out to their buyers to determine whether they have or are likely to be financially impacted by the situation.

In anticipation of a government-imposed shutdown which would likely limit or totally prohibit physical settlements, all parties should ensure they are prepared to transact electronically via the PEXA workspace.   Shand Taylor Lawyers are very experienced in electronic contracts (such as the use of Docusign) and e-conveyancing and can provide all the assistance you require including guidance on how to move a paper transaction to an electronic transaction to enable you to settle transactions without setting foot in your (or someone else’s) office. 

In the leasing space, many tenants (particularly those in the service industry such as restaurants and cafes) are likely to seek rent abatements or reductions in light of these unprecedented circumstances and landlords will need to make difficult commercial decisions on whether to agree to these requests in light of the reduced market and future viability of the tenant.  

Wills and Estate Planning 

Succession planning is essential to ensure your assets pass to the intended beneficiaries at the right time and in the most tax effective manner. With the declaration of COVID-19 as a global pandemic, there is now a real need to review your existing Wills (and your estate plan as a whole).   This is particularly so if you are in one of the high-risk categories. 

Reviewing and updating your Will is just as important as creating one.  The review does not automatically mean you will need to change your Will, but it is critical that you at least consider whether changes will better reflect your estate planning needs.  If your Will is not up to date, then there is a real risk that your estate will not pass to your intended beneficiaries or will pass in a manner that has detrimental tax consequences.

If you do not have a Will and/or enduring power of attorney or neither are up to date, then you should contact our dedicated and experienced estate planning team here at Shand Taylor Lawyers.

Payment of Debts, Recovery and Enforcement

An economic downturn will inevitably mean that businesses and individuals are likely to face difficulties paying debts or recovering money owed by creditors.  

While the Federal Government has announced stimulus packages to assist businesses and banks are providing other measures to “soften” the economic impact, we expect that there will still be significant financial stress experience by many Australians

We can provide you with advice about the various options available and, for example, help you negotiate extensions or variations of payment terms where you owe money to another person or entity.

For businesses, now is also the time to check that your terms and conditions of trade are up to date, and as far as possible, check that your security interests (for example, equipment leases, retention of title clauses) are registered with the PPSR to help give you protection should your customers become insolvent.  If that occurs, we can advise you about the best way to recover any goods you may have supplied (such as on a retention of title arrangement) or money owed to you.

Government Assistance

Both the State and Federal Governments have announced wide ranging economic stimulus measures aimed at lessening the financial impact of COVID-19 shutdowns on individuals and small businesses.  The Federal Government’s response focuses on:

  1. Increasing cash flow assistance for business, including cash payments up to $25,000.00 to help pay wage costs, a 50% wage subsidy for all current apprentices and trainees and expediating short-term loans;
  2. Supporting business investment, including increasing the instant asset write off threshold to $150,000.00 and accelerating asset depreciation deductions;
  3. Assisting individuals in providing one-off stimulus payments of $750.000 to some low-income households and allowing certain individuals to access up to $10,000.00 from their superannuation tax-free; and,
  4. Offering assistance to severely affected regions, including the distribution of $1 billion throughout disproportionately impacted regions and providing small business’ relief from certain tax obligations.

With new policies being announced every day, it is important to keep up to date with the latest information.  Click here find out more about the Federal Government’s current stimulus package.  

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