Ghana: legal considerations of the coronavirus (COVID-19) on businesses
On 11 March 2019, the World Health Organisation (“WHO”) declared the coronavirus (COVID-19) a global pandemic. WHO requested countries to “activate and scale up emergency response mechanisms”. On 15 March 2020, in response to the increasing numbers of persons affected with the Coronavirus in Ghana, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo directed all schools to be closed until further notice and banned all public gatherings including conferences, workshops, funerals, festivals, political rallies, church activities, sporting events, and other related events for four weeks.
The legal implications for businesses are complex and wide-ranging, from a need to protect the health and wellbeing of employees to ensuring that challenges that face the business are effectively mitigated. This article considers some of the issues that employers may face in the wake of the effects of the Coronavirus and the measures taken by the Government of Ghana.
Health of workers
The labour laws of Ghana require an employer to take practicable steps to ensure that the employee has a safe place of work and also take reasonable care of the health and safety of the employee while at work. Since the WHO has classified the Coronavirus as a global pandemic, employers must ensure that they follow the latest guidance from WHO in mitigating the spread of the disease. Some of these measures may include improving the hygiene practices and provision of protective gear, suspending group activities, utilising alternative working arrangements such as rotations, rosters and working from home, and limiting or cancelling interactions with clients, if possible. Though employees may not refuse to attend to their work since the Government of Ghana has not implemented a shutdown of businesses, employers need to balance the risk of their business goals and the risk of spreading the virus in the workplace.
In instances where an employer has implemented alternative working arrangements such as a rotation, working from home or closing of the business, these changes have the potential of affecting employee leave entitlements, especially if employees require sick leave or are required to take part of their annual leave. Generally, if an employee is ready, willing and able to perform their work, and work can be performed remotely from home, the employee should be given that opportunity otherwise an employer could be deemed to be activing unreasonably and a termination occurring as a result of that could be deemed to be unlawful and/or unfair. If on the other hand, the nature of work requires employees to be on site to undertake their work and that is not possible due to the government’s directive or due to a shutdown, then alternative arrangements can be made with employees such as allowing employees to take their paid leave. At every point in time, the situation has to be properly analysed and an appropriate decision taken. Where a company decides to close its offices, redundancy payments will have to be made to employees.
As part of the prudent steps to protect the workplace from exposure to the Coronavirus, most businesses are collecting information from persons who attend their premises. Such information usually includes recent travel history, exposure to potentially exposed individuals, or symptoms. While processing this personal data is necessary considering the circumstances, this raises data protection challenges. Since the personal data being collected is health data and may be deemed to be sensitive data under the Data Protection Act, 2012, (Act 843), the employer will need to review how such data is processed and the circumstances under which such data may be shared with other persons to avoid breach under the Data Protection Act.
In order to ensure business continuity, an employer needs to devote the required human and technical resources to managing the different implications which have arisen due to the Coronavirus. Employers also need to consider alternative work arrangements and putting in place the required tools and systems to enable employees to use these alternatives. Businesses also need to be aware of the latest guidelines issued by the WHO and local authorities requiring actions to be taken by all including employers.
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COVID-19, also known as the Coronavirus, is an infectious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) that was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on 11 March 2020. The disease has since been reported in over 190 countries.
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