Article by Sharon Givoni
Since its very beginning, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected and destabilized most areas of business, with some industries impacted more than others.
At The Design Coach, we regularly have questions from designers and architects about the future of the industry, and about how design businesses will function as we begin to emerge from the pandemic.
Whatever the details may be, one thing is certain: designers and architects must consider and adjust their business practices, including more stringent Terms and Conditions to minimize risk, and protect the health of their businesses in the long term.
In this article, we ask TDC resident legal expert Sharon Givoni about ways we can better set up our business systems to manage the “new world” living with Covid.
TDC: Will designers need to be fully vaccinated?
SG: “Have you been vaccinated?” It may seem like an awkward question, but in today’s pandemic environment, a person will not be breaching etiquette asking.
While this question may be inappropriate if asked while standing in the line at a grocery store, it would be more acceptable of designers who are spending a large amount of time together in close proximity with clients in their home or commercial project.
As a business decision, it may be worth considering whether your vaccination status may positively affect how comfortable your clients are engaging your services, especially if the client prefers to have in-person consultations.
TDC: Can we require our clients to be fully vaccinated?
SG: Designers often query whether they have the right to require clients to be fully vaccinated before they conduct house visits.
Here, there is no clear-cut answer.
Whilst the government has placed great emphasis on the importance of double vaccinations in the community, it is up to you personally whether you will see clients in person once the lockdown has been lifted, and the circumstances of conducting in-person visits.
That being said, it would certainly be within the realms of reasonable expectation to require your clients to wear a mask when doing home visits.
You may also consider updating your contract terms, both with your clients and your employees or contractors, stating you will only work with people who wear masks and can show they have been fully vaccinated, if this is your preference.
TDC: Will vaccination passports be used in business?
SG: Australian States such as New South Wales and Victoria have been working toward reaching vaccination targets. Once those targets are reached, there have been suggestions that certain freedoms will only be available to those vaccinated.
There may even be need for proof of vaccination before overseas travel can commence, and this will be potentially linked to a passport chip, or a smartphone barcode or QR code.
For the time being, this is an area we all need to watch carefully.
TDC: Are there legal considerations for designers with Virtual Consultations?
SG: Throughout the pandemic, home visits have been significantly reduced and designers have been working more and more through virtual consultations.
Typically, these virtual consultations will begin with a client sending through pictures of the relevant space, followed by a virtual tour of the house. Designers will no doubt request close-up views and photos of spaces to have a better understanding of the area.
Due to it becoming such a fixture in design businesses, the ability to work virtually must be built into your terms of service.
For instance, common issues of concern are the designer’s reliance on the client to take and provide accurate measurements of the space, or for the client to be available for furniture deliveries. Having a set of terms and conditions that comprehensively cover these matters ensures both you and your client clearly understand their respective rights and obligations. Situations can then be managed if things go wrong.
TDC: Can designers make it a requirement that their staff return to the office?
SG: Another common question that comes up as the community begins to emerge from the pandemic is whether business owners are allowed to require employees or contractors to return to the office.
This has become somewhat a touchy topic, and as with many other matters, there is no black and white answer.
If the lockdown has been lifted, staff may be required to return to work, as long as the request is reasonable. The reasonableness of the requirement of coming into the office may include compliance with density rules that is: ensuring the office is not too crowded.
The reason for this is employees, by signing their employment contract, have likely already agreed to on the face of it work from a particular location.
It is also important for designers to keep in mind the safety of their staff, and whether they can protect their staff whilst they are working in person. For instance, by allowing contractors to work remotely, they can stay COVID-safe through physical distancing.
With respect to in-person staff, designers are encouraged to remind workers to frequently wash their hands, maintain distance where possible, go to a doctor if they have COVID-19 symptoms and generally to employ safe working practices.
Safe Work Australia, the federal work health and safety regulator, and the Fair Work Ombudsman, which is responsible for compliance with federal workplace laws, have made it clear that most employers cannot force their staff to get a vaccine.
TDC: What would you recommend with adjustment of Terms and Conditions to protect designers as the world adjusts to living with Covid?
SG: Designers will need to adjust their business practices post-pandemic and adjust their Terms and Conditions accordingly.
We have found that the practices of designers during COVID 19 have necessitated at least some adjustments to their contracts. These documents are important as they set out the expectations of both you, your clients, and your staff, as well as all your respective rights and obligations. This ultimately protects everyone involved by ensuring all parties are on the same page.
“When the going gets tough, be creative.” Scott Hudson (Henry Built)
A lot of commentators have predicted there is a strong future for the design industry. As Scott Hudson, the CEO of Henry Built says: “When the going gets tough, be creative.”
Many design companies have displayed admirable resilience in changing their design practice in today’s quarantine culture. Some have posted paid lessons and courses on different aspects of architecture and design. Others have posted DIY packages for purchase, and some have implemented new software that allow them to create better virtual visuals of their clients’ homes.
Ultimately, the pandemic has meant that designers have had to make many adjustments to their business practices. The above tips, and in particular, updated contracts and terms and conditions, will go a long way to providing some certainty as we continue to navigate the post-pandemic world.
Thankfully, one thing’s for sure: all of us have had to learn to love our homes. This places designers and architects in the unique position of helping the community reshape, redefine and elevate the spaces in which they live, work and play.
This article was written by Sharon Givoni, principal solicitor at the law firm Sharon Givoni Consulting.
Disclaimer: This article is of a general nature only and must not be relied upon as a substitute for legal advice.
If you have any questions relating to your design business, contact Sharon’s team at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
We work closely with Sharon Givoni through the Premium Group Coaching Program where we develop a range of contracts and educate our members in legal areas.
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