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Adapting for a COVID-19 Workforce

Adapting for a COVID-19 Workforce 1

By Diane Robinette, CEO of Incisive Software

Across the globe lockdown and work-from-home mandates are slowly being lifted. As offices begin to reopen, for many it will not be the same as it once was—at least not for some time. Large, open workspaces are being redesigned to create safe social distancing spaces. Sanitation stations and touchless doors will become common sights. Meanwhile, costly real estate and demonstrable work-from-home successes are prompting some financial services institutions to reevaluate where work is conducted. For many a hybrid model is a very appealing option.

Nationwide announced a significant reduction of office space as the company transitions to a permanent hybrid work model. A recent CNBC article includes comments from Mondelez’ CEO Dirk Van De Put stating that the coronavirus crisis has showed, “we can work in different ways,” and as a result, the company does not need all its global offices. Barclays CEO Jes Staley said crowded corporate offices with thousands of employees, “may be a thing of the past.”

While much uncertainty remains over what the work life will look like in a post-pandemic world, the reality is that financial services companies can’t take a wait-and-see approach. Technology and controls must be put in place that enable employees to do their job accurately and efficiently for the long haul, no matter where they work.

An opportunity to get IT right

Without warning, Coronavirus forced financial institutions around the world to transition their workforce away from an office environment to work from home. Some organizations rose to the challenge at lightning speed. IT teams responded quickly, enabling secure remote access for the masses; policies and resources were put in place on the fly with great success. For others, the shift has not been smooth, and vulnerabilities were exposed.

As companies work to determine the best path forward in a post-COVID environment, an information technology assessment is critical for future success. This is especially true for organizations adopting a permanent hybrid model. While remote workstations and VPN access may have been enough in the interim, what about the long-term? Is the infrastructure in place sufficient to support a large-scale hybrid model? Can existing technology support necessary business functions and objectives? Another important consideration, do employees have the tools they need to do their specific job remotely?  For example, in the financial services industry where people aren’t used to working remotely, common—yet important—tasks like Excel collaboration, reviews and approvals can be very difficult when working remotely.

Financial companies rely heavily on data from complex models—created within Excel—for estimating costs and future risk.  Given the severe economic consequences of the coronavirus, model accuracy is more important than ever before. And while using a VPN to access spreadsheets on an internal share drive may have been tolerable for the short-term, during the work-from-home mandate, VPN access is not a long-term solution for spreadsheet collaboration. In addition to connectivity issues, maintaining accuracy and consistency of numbers is extremely difficult when spreadsheet controls are missing.

Reigning in risk

Hidden within every spreadsheet is inherent risk; risk that formulas are not consistent or recalculating properly, coworkers are not using the most current version, and that information is hidden behind formatting. When working in a hybrid environment additional risk is introduced when team members, who are not in the same room, are unable to collaborate to ensure accuracy of numbers. Common tasks like tick marks and approvals are much more complex when team members are dispersed.

For employees to be effective in their job, and to ensure the data from which key business decisions are made is accurate and reliable, user needs—like the ability to easily collaborate in Excel—must be taken into consideration during the technology assessment. Spreadsheet management technology offers an easy solution to this problem by providing a comprehensive view of all spreadsheets regardless of where they reside within an organization. Users can continue to work as they always have using SharePoint, OneDrive, IBM ECM, etc. Meanwhile, changes are tracked providing greater transparency and governance over spreadsheets. Supporting documents can be captured at both project and revision levels. Project level documents can evolve with business needs while revision level is permanent for stricter change management. Maintaining a complete trail of who made changes, when and specifically what they did all greatly simplify compliance management.

While it’s too soon to know what the post-COVID business environment will look like, it is highly likely there will be modifications. And while financial institutions may have been able to get by with turning a blind eye to issues like spreadsheet collaboration, in the new pandemic environment where a hybrid workforce will become increasingly more common, technology shortcomings will become more consequential. Understanding what technology employees need to get their job done will help companies avoid potential issues in the future.

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New Moneypenny Survey Shows How Office Life has Transformed in Post-lockdown Return to Work 

New Moneypenny Survey Shows How Office Life has Transformed in Post-lockdown Return to Work  2

A new survey by leading outsourced communications provider, Moneypenny, into the return to work post-Covid lockdown, shows that almost half (45%) of office workers surveyed are returning to work immediately, with a further 31% due back in the next one to four months, however 48% admit to having some concerns about COVID risks and a further 15% are not at all comfortable about going back to the office.

For some workers the return to work has been further delayed, with 5% not required to return to work until January 2021 at the earliest, and 18% having no specific date to return.

The North East and East Midlands have the most workers already back at work among those surveyed (53% in both regions) compared to the East of England which has the lowest proportion (41%).

New Moneypenny Survey Shows How Office Life has Transformed in Post-lockdown Return to Work  3

Navigating the new commute 

A reluctance to use public transport is shown in the fact that only 16% of those surveyed will use it to commute, while 66% will use their car. The East Midlands had the highest percentage of workers choosing to drive to work, with 81% saying they’ll commute by car, compared to 53% of those in London. Manchester had the lowest percentage of workers stating they’d be using public transport, with only 7% claiming it to be their commuting method of choice, while London had the most (29%).

Local Office Economy

In a blow to those hoping returning workers will boost the local economy, the survey showed more than 35% said that they won’t be visiting any local amenities when they go back to work.  There is a clear difference between the age groups however, as 51% of those aged 18-24 and 41% of those age 25-34 said they’d visit a nearby sandwich bar, compared with 21% of 45-54 and 11% of 55-64s who would do this.

Wearing masks in the office

The survey showed that 61% said their company has made masks compulsory, of which 28% require them to be worn at all times, in all areas, while 33% require them to be worn only in communal areas. A further 26% said their company has made masks voluntary and they plan to wear one, while 13% said they are voluntary but they won’t wear one.

When asked whether they minded having to wear a mask at work, 37% said they had no problems with the new rule, however, a further 36% said they would find it too much to do a whole day of work wearing a mask and 13% said they don’t mind wearing a mask at work short-term, but would be less happy if the policy was for the long-term. A disgruntled 9% don’t like having to wear a mask at work at all, as they feel it inhibits their freedom and human rights and they don’t like being told what to wear. A further 2% said they’ll refuse to return to work so long as masks are compulsory.

New Moneypenny Survey Shows How Office Life has Transformed in Post-lockdown Return to Work  4

In larger cities, masks are more likely to be compulsory at work, with 40% of those in London stating that their companies have already made them compulsory for all areas of the office, compared to just 14% of those surveyed in Yorkshire.

Co-workers and social distancing

Social distancing at work is clearly a concern, as 16% of those surveyed said that they don’t trust their colleagues to social distance in the office, while 37% trust some, but not all colleagues.  Scotland’s workers seem to be the least trusting, with 23% of workers stating they distrust team members.

Death of the tea round?

Some offices have banned the sharing of equipment completely (cited by 31% of those surveyed) while even without a ban, a further 35% said they won’t be sharing stationery and equipment with colleagues.

Even the tea rounds have been called into question. While 47% said they will make teas and coffees for their colleagues, 38% will only make tea for themselves and 14% said their companies have banned tea rounds.

Office workers in the East of England are most likely to only make drinks for themselves (51%), in contrast with London, where 25% will make drinks for themselves.

New Moneypenny Survey Shows How Office Life has Transformed in Post-lockdown Return to Work  5

 Commenting on the survey, Joanna Swash, CEO of Moneypenny said: ‘We were interested to see how many office workers are either already back at work or will be going back in the next few months.  While there is inevitably nervousness about Covid risks, it is positive to see the large proportion of people who are happy to work with their company in following the new health and safety rules and we’ve certainly been impressed by how innovative and agile our own clients have been in adapting to the new normal at work.’

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Honest services wire fraud and the need for caution on multilateral development bank projects

Honest services wire fraud and the need for caution on multilateral development bank projects 6

By Joshua Ray, Legal Director, Rahman Ravelli www.rahmanravelli.co.uk

A recent court case extended US prosecutors’ extraterritorial reach for tackling corruption. Joshua Ray explains the implications for those accused of wrongdoing on multilateral development bank (MDB) projects

Imagine the following scenario: You are an executive for a Paraguayan construction firm that has just secured a contract with the Paraguayan government to build a hospital in that country.  The scale of the project means you will need to hire a number of subcontractors and, as you are in charge of choosing those subcontractors, you decide to seek bribes from those wanting the work. Such action is ill-advised and morally problematic. But as commercial bribery of this sort is not illegal in Paraguay, you may have breached your company’s code of conduct but you have not committed a crime under Paraguayan law.

Yet, unfortunately for you, the funds for the hospital were loaned to the Paraguayan government by the World Bank via a wire transfer from its Washington DC headquarters.  And under a recent decision from the US Second Circuit Court of Appeals, United States v. Napout, you may have just committed “honest services” wire fraud under US law—even though you never stepped foot out of Paraguay and did not break your home country’s laws. The Napout decision is important as it expands the extraterritorial reach of US prosecutors’ anti-corruption efforts.  For the reasons that I detail below, it has significant implications for foreign businesses, especially those engaged in projects sponsored by multilateral development banks (MDBs), whose financing comes from the US.

As they did after the 2008-2009 financial crisis, the World Bank and other MDBs are counteracting the current virus-induced global economic downturn with plans to deploy hundreds of billions of dollars in loans, primarily to governments in the developing world.  Much of this will be parcelled out to private sector entities to construct hospitals, testing facilities, sanitation systems and other important infrastructure. Such projects carry the risk of corrupt local officials and business leaders siphoning off such funds for themselves. MDBs are mandated by their charters to take all reasonable steps to combat fraud and corruption on MDB-financed projects.  They do not have law enforcement powers but they satisfy their mandate by building provisions into their contracts with direct borrowers (e.g. governments) that compel the borrowers to adhere to the highest ethical standards during the execution of MDB-financed projects.  MDB contracts require borrowers to give the banks freedom to audit any of their books and records that relate to MDB funds.

This right of an MDB being able to audit the books extends to any indirect beneficiaries of MDB funds for a project, such as suppliers, consultants and contractors. Such third parties must also agree to submit to the MDB’s jurisdiction to investigate and sanction them for corruption, fraud or other misconduct. Punishments imposed by MDBs can be harsh, and can include debarment; where a company is prevented from bidding on MDB-financed projects for a number of years or even indefinitely.  When an MDB uncovers misconduct through its own investigations it can – and often will – refer its findings to national law enforcement agencies; which can mean even more serious problems for those investigated.

The significance of the Napout decision regarding such situations is that it enables US prosecutors to pursue MDB-related bribery even when the purported wrongdoer is not subject to the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Prosecutors can now pursue suspects for such bribery even if that suspect is not a US company, issuer or agent and has no other connection to the US.

The Second Circuit’s Decision

The appellants in Napout, Juan Angel Napout and Jose Maria Marin, were two former executives at football’s world governing body, FIFA. They had been convicted of using their positions to obtain millions of dollars in bribes relating to the sale of marketing and broadcasting rights. Napout had been president of Paraguay’s national football federation and Marin held the same post in the Brazilian football federation.

They both appealed on the basis that their convictions were the result of impermissible extraterritorial applications of the US honest services fraud wire statute.  The crux of their argument was summed up by Napout’s counsel, who argued that the US had no authority to police the relationship between a Paraguayan employee and his Paraguayan employer and an alleged scheme involving South Americans that took place almost entirely in South America.

The issue of whether the honest services fraud wire statute had been improperly extended to extraterritorial conduct was then reviewed by the Second Circuit. It concluded that as long as a wire fraud scheme involves a wire transmission from, into or through the US that is “essential” or more than “merely incidental” to the overall crime, the extraterritorial application of US law was permissible.

The appellants argued that honest services wire fraud was a materially different crime than regular wire fraud, as the focus of honest services wire fraud was not the use of the wires but the bad-faith breach of a fiduciary duty owed to the scheme’s victim. They argued that as the actual conduct underlying an honest services fraud scheme occurred abroad, it could not be prosecuted in the US solely because it used US wires.  But the Second Circuit disagreed: all that was required to uphold Napout’s and Marin’s convictions were facts showing that the use of US wires in their case (transfers of bribes in and out of US banks) was “essential” to their scheme. On that issue, the Court easily determined that the wires were essential: at least $2.4M of Marin’s payments were sent to his New York bank account and $2.5M of Napout’s were paid in US dollars generated by wire transfers originating in the US.

Implications for Participants in MDB-Financed Projects

The decision in Napout is relevant to MDB-financed projects as it clarifies the breadth of the honest services wire fraud statute and shows the ease with which US prosecutors can use it to target conduct that occurs almost entirely abroad.

The “honest services” variant of wire fraud is somewhat unique to US law and it is not universally recognised: a main piece of Napout’s defence, for instance, was that honest services bribery in a commercial context was not illegal where his conduct took place.  But in the Second Circuit’s view, this fact was largely irrelevant.  The Court ruled that the men had violated the statute by knowingly violating their duties to FIFA under the organisation’s code of ethics.

So, what does this mean in practice?  The Napout decision confirms that the reach of US anti-corruption efforts extends far beyond the bounds of the FCPA; which applies only to bribes paid to “foreign officials” by US issuers, domestic concerns or their agents.  Using an approach based on honest services fraud, all that US prosecutors need in order to have jurisdiction is for an “essential” US wire to be used in the scheme.  As several of the main MDBs are based in the US – including the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank – a fraud or corruption scheme involving MDB money could easily make “essential” use of a US wire transmission; thus rendering the offenders subject to possible US prosecution.

This is an important point for companies and individuals participating in MDB-financed projects to keep in mind: even if commercial bribery is legal (or at least widely accepted) in the country where the project takes place, if the ultimate funding is flowing from the US then extreme caution must be taken to ensure that US wire fraud statutes are not violated.  This is particularly critical for projects taking place in developing countries where accepted business practices have not yet caught up with norms elsewhere.

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Do your contracts and policies stand up to the Covid-19 test? A view from the UK

Do your contracts and policies stand up to the Covid-19 test? A view from the UK 7

By Amy Cooper of Ius Laboris UK firm Lewis Silkin

The coronavirus pandemic and lockdown have stress-tested employment contracts and policies, with some showing signs of strain. What should you do now to make sure your employment documentation is ready for the post-Covid future?

A host of new issues for employers has arisen out of the pandemic, from health and safety concerns, to handling furlough and unanticipated homeworking. Employment contracts and policies were not drafted with the current situation in mind, yet restrictions on how people live and work could continue until a vaccine or effective treatment is found, possibly for years. And it seems likely that, as we gradually emerge from the shadow of coronavirus, it will be into a different world of work where home and flexible working is standard.

Furlough and changes to hours and salaries

In March, the UK government intervened to protect millions of jobs with its Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, encouraging employers to furlough their staff rather than make redundancies. But most employers did not have any contractual right to ‘furlough’ or lay off staff. The concept of furlough leave was completely new and lay-off clauses in employment contracts are unusual, as are flexibility clauses that might allow an employer to reduce employees’ salaries or hours.

As a result, many employers have had to seek explicit agreement from employees to vary their terms where furloughing or changes to hours or salaries have been necessary to avoid redundancies.

Working from home

For those businesses that unexpectedly had to ask employees to work from home, there have been numerous other concerns. These include the health and safety of employees working in their homes, over which employers have little oversight and control.

Also problematic is the protection of personal data where employees are more likely to be using personal devices for work or work devices for personal reasons. And another issue is information security and confidentiality. This is more difficult to manage where employees are hosting calls and meetings at home with family members or housemates in earshot, or they do not remember to lock away any devices and documents.

Finally, grievances, disciplinaries and performance management problems may still need to be dealt with, albeit remotely. Most employers’ policies did not envisage or provide for this eventuality.

These concerns need to be managed in the short term, but they may also become longer-term issues for those employees who opt to work from home for the foreseeable future. Employment contracts should be updated as necessary, and certain terms such as place of work may need to be renegotiated.

Some employers may also wish to reconsider salaries. For example, some employees are paid a premium to work in central London: it may be decided that such high salaries are not justified if they do not need to live in London or spend thousands of pounds commuting. Conversely, if employees work from home, they may wish to be provided with home office equipment and possibly recover other expenses.

The workplace

Some work cannot be done from home and employees, such as those who work in factories, supermarkets or on building sites, have in many cases continued going to the workplace throughout lockdown. These employers have different problems, such as implementing new health and safety measures in the workplace and ensuring employees abide by them. They may also have new data protection issues as they seek to collect more health data about employees, which might require new policies or changes to their privacy notice.

An increasing number of employers will face issues of this kind as they start to plan for the return of staff currently furloughed or working from home.

Sickness policies

Employers’ policies on sickness absence and sick pay are unlikely adequately to cover employees who are self-isolating in accordance with government guidance but not unwell. Although we hope that Covid-19 will not be with us forever, it would be good practice to amend sickness absence provisions to set out expectations for employees who are either suffering from the virus, shielding or otherwise self-isolating. Alternatively, a temporary policy could be introduced covering these matters.

What should employers do now?

Amy Cooper

Amy Cooper

Some problems employers are facing will only require short term solutions, while others might need permanent changes to contracts and policies. Bear in mind that we may see a second wave of coronavirus in the coming months which might result in another lockdown, or there could be local lockdowns or further requirements for vulnerable employees to shield. Employers should think about whether they need any of the following:

  • A temporary homeworking policy dealing specifically with health and safety, information security and data privacy, supervision and management, provision of homeworking equipment or how to expense any necessary items. If employers think employees may wish to work from home much more in future, they should start considering what sort of permanent homeworking policy they may require.
  • An updated health and safety policy or a return to work policy that considers relevant matters in the workplace (e.g. masks, 1m+ distancing, safety equipment, cleaning, shared spaces, one-way systems) and also how to manage employees’ commute so as to reduce risks. A return to work policy could also deal with data privacy issues and new conditions on processing health information.
  • Revision of disciplinary, grievance and performance management procedures to cater for remote working, for example, holding meetings by video conferencing, accompaniment, conduct of investigations.
  • A temporary change to sickness policies to deal with employees who are not sick but are self-isolating, quarantined after returning from abroad, or ‘shielding’ because they are clinically extremely vulnerable. Employers may want to pay employees sick pay in these circumstances even if they’re not ill, for example, to prevent those who may be ill from coming into the workplace and infecting others. They may also wish to amend policies to deal with any notification or evidential requirements.
  • Any changes to contracts of employment? Employers may wish to consider a range of new contractual provisions, such as including a right to lay off employees if work diminishes, or rights to alter working hours, the place of work, or to redeploy employees (e.g. to cover work if other employees are sick). If an employee’s place of work is changing permanently, the employer may want to renegotiate the contract.

Employers should take advice on their specific situation before attempting to make changes to contracts and policies. This can be a troublesome area and, if not handled correctly, could lead to employees claiming constructive dismissal on the basis that the employer has committed a fundamental breach of the employment contract. And remember that, even where employees agree to changes, the employer is still constrained not to exercise its contractual rights unreasonably by the term of mutual trust and confidence that is implied into every contract of employment.

Employers should also bear in mind that if their contracts and policies are regarded too unfavourably, employees may simply vote with their feet and choose to work elsewhere. On the other hand, judicious changes to employment contracts of employment could give employers valuable flexibility to operate in the emerging, post-Covid world of work.

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