KICA hosts webinar on COVID-19 legal issues

Speakers at the webinar included (clockwise from the top left): Lim Hyeong-joo, intellectual property partner, Yulchon; Lee Kwang-sun, labour and employment partner, Jipyong; Hong Ji-hoon (with glasses) asset finance partner, and Lee Dongho, M&A partner, at White & Case; Lee Hyo-je, M&A partner, Kim and Chang.

The Korea In-house Counsel Association (KICA) has hosted a sponsored webinar on pandemic-related legal issues with White & Case, Kim & Chang, Jipyong and Yulchon participating. Topics discussed included US contract and domestic contract law issues (including force majeure), personnel labour issues related to COVID-19, and in-house data management compliance.

KICA president Lee Wan-keun said: “Many of the members’ evaluations of the webinar this time were said to have been beneficial. In the future, we plan to gradually expand by inquiring about the progress of the webinar to all sponsoring organizations.”

Key highlights of the proceedings included White & Case M&A partner Lee Dongho speaking on US contract law issues potentially arising from the pandemic. “There are still overwhelming cases in which contracts are carried out normally, even in the COVID-19 crisis,” said Lee. “People tend to be resolved in a positive direction, rather than proceeding with lawsuits, because it affects the overall economy rather than certain industries.

“When determining whether to apply force majeure, we should consider not only general provisions against force majeure, but also other contractual provisions. It is also the role of an in-house lawyer to closely analyze the provisions of the contract, and to deliberate on various countermeasures such as litigation, arbitration and caution.” Lee was at the panel with White & Case asset finance partner Hong Ji-hoon.

Kim and Chang M&A partner Lee Hyo-je discussed the effects COVID-19 had on domestic contracts, including force majeure, stating: “Although it is unclear whether COVID-19 will be recognized by the courts as a force majeure event in specific cases, companies are advised to take precautions to mitigate potential risk by: (1) being aware of the criteria applied by courts in past cases where force majeure was at issue; and (2) checking for conditions and steps required under the relevant contracts for a party to argue force majeure.”

In a review of personnel labour issues related to COVID-19, Jipyong’s labour and employment partner, Lee Kwang-sun, said: “First of all, a company cannot unilaterally cut salaries (due to reduced sales). To cut benefits, we need to go through a ‘process to change the disadvantage of employment rules’, and the precedent limits this case to when there is rationality in social conventional wisdom.”

Lee also stressed that even if the process of changing the disadvantage of employment rules has been carried out, an additional “individual worker’s consent procedure” is required if individual workers’ work contracts are signed in favour of the newly changed employment rules.

Addressing the webinar on terms of in-house data management compliance, Yulchon’s intellectual property partner, Lim Hyeong-joo spoke of the “importance for corporations to establish and implement compliance related to electronic evidence in advance”.