After a year of isolation, uncertainty and razor-thin profit margins, New Jersey business owners are rejoicing as COVID-19 vaccines have become widely distributed and restrictions have been eased or eliminated entirely. The situation, however, is far from stable for the business community. On top of everything else, litigation is on the rise.
Experts predict that business owners will see a substantial uptick in the number of lawsuits and could face billions of dollars in pandemic-related litigation costs. In a recent study conducted in February, 31% of in-house counsel lawyers reported seeing an increase in the number of lawsuits, and another 46% expected that number to drastically grow within the next six months.
If you suspect that a lawsuit is coming, you need to reach out to a specialized attorney because the beginning of most lawsuits is an extremely critical time.
Here are some potential post-pandemic issues to watch for:
Protecting trade secrets: Many employees have viewed this time as a chance to change the direction of their lives. Some will want to change jobs. In fact, some researchers estimate that as many as 1 out of every 4 employees are actively considering a career change. These potential job-hopers could take your valuable trade secrets with them if you are not properly protected. It is important to be proactive to avoid this theft and to react quickly once a theft has occurred. Make sure to have your employee contracts protect your business from this theft. It is equally important to document everything and save any proof that a former employee has taken customer lists, pricing or any other sensitive information.
Vendor contracts: One of the most common side-effects of the pandemic has been significant supply-chain problems, including the delayed or non-delivery of goods. Some companies have avoided litigating these disputes during the lockdown. There will be litigation on the horizon. The first thing businesses need to do is to dust off their vendor contracts. If your business has suffered from delayed or abandoned deliveries, you will want to pay particular attention to any clauses that contain language such as “time is of the essence.” Alternatively, if your business has been unable to make timely deliveries, you will want to pay particular attention to any “force majeure” or “act of god” clauses that may excuse delays or performance.
Employment policies: As companies begin to have employees return to the workplace, you may want to review your employee handbooks and other related documents to determine if some of the provisions need some adjustment. For instance, the company might not even have a vaccination policy. Recent guidance from the EEOC has suggested that employers can require employees to be vaccinated from the virus, in some circumstances. However, such a policy could potentially see a litany of legal challenges especially if they do not account for religious or medical exemptions. On the other hand, employers could face enormous liability if no policy is adopted, and an unvaccinated worker brings the virus home. Business owners should consult an attorney who specializes in this area before implementing any new policies to ensure that their company has complied with all applicable state and federal laws.
In short, the vaccine may be here but now that the world has changed, threats to New Jersey business owners still are great. It’s time to be proactive and safeguard the business that you have worked so hard to advance.
Michael Horn is a partner at Archer & Greiner, specializing in practice of general litigation with an emphasis on commercial litigation, UCC claims, contractual disputes, real estate litigation, products liability litigation, complex litigation, insurance coverage disputes and environmental litigation. Dylan Newton is an associate at Archer & Greiner in the business litigation practice group.