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SMEs: Legal Tips For Office Space Acquisition | Morenike George-Taylor

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In Africa today there are a lot of issues facing small to medium enterprises (SMEs). One of the main issues is getting a suitable place to locate their business. If you own a start-up or SME you may choose to operate from home to reduce costs but there are other options available such as renting a space for your company, sharing a space with another business or purchasing a space for the purposes of your business.

Renting a Space

If you want to rent a space to operate your business, there are a few things you have to bear in mind:

  1. The space should be slated to be for commercial use. You should look out to ensure that the space you want to rent can actually legally be used for commercial purposes in order to prevent having issues with the Ministry of Urban and Regional Planning.
  1. You should also ensure that you are renting the space directly from the owner of the property. You can engage the services of a lawyer to carry out a search at the land registry to help you confirm this. I always advise that payment of rent is made into the account of the landlord directly and any agency and legal fees are paid to the agent and lawyer separately.
  1. Finally you need to review your lease agreement carefully. Get a lawyer to check the clauses in the agreement and ensure you are covered. If you need to hang a banner or put up signage for your business, your agreement must permit you to do so. If your business involves clients coming over and parking their cars, there should be adequate arrangements made for parking space and so on.

Time would not allow me discuss all the legal considerations you need to bear in mind within this short article but these three tips  if taken into consideration would help prevent you from making mistakes.

Shared office space

I love the idea of a shared space and I believe it is a great idea for businesses who want to reduce their costs yet have an office. In a shared office space, you may share more than an office, both companies may use one receptionist and split the salary and so on.  However, there are a few things you need to take into consideration before getting a shared office space:

  1. Make sure the person you are subletting the property from has the authority to sublet the property under the head lease. One of the first documents you would need to see before agreeing to share a rented space with someone is their title to the property, it could be a tenancy agreement or a lease agreement for example. You need to look out for the conditions of sub – lease. A good lawyer should be able to advise you on the clauses contained there.
  1. Review the office sharing agreement: one of the reasons people have issues in shared office spaces is that the terms of combined use are not clearly spelt out. You need to have it clearly stated:
    1. Who pays for what and when?
    2. Who pays for and organises waste disposal, electricity bills, water bills, local government taxes?
    3. How are costs shared where emergency measures must be taken for light or water?
    4. Who covers repair bills and chooses the workman?

These are just a few of the issues you need to bear in mind to prepare the space sharing agreement. If you have been given one already, were these issues taken into account? You should get good lawyer to help you ensure that all your T’s are crossed and your i’s are dotted.

Also Read Immployment Connect By Zandile Dube

Buying property

If you are buying a property to use to do business for your SME or StartUp, congratulations, you are in the top 1% of many start-ups and would save a lot on rent. However, before you buy land in Nigeria, there are a couple of tips that would help you if you bore them in mind:

  1. Get a property that has been designated for commercial use so you wouldn’t have any issues with the Ministry of Urban and Regional Planning.
  2. If the building has been constructed, ensure that it complies with the building planning approval that was given by the government.
  3. Carry out a search at the appropriate registry. I can give you a hint, searching the land registry is not enough.
  4. Ensure a lawyer reviews your agreement before you pay or sign on the dotted line.

In this article I have just given you a few tips that should help you as an SME make good decisions on renting, sharing or buying office space. I am always an advocate for doing things right if they must be done at all. I advise you always engage the services of a good lawyer before engaging in these transactions in order to save yourself from fraud and unnecessary hardship.

Image:Park Commercial Real Estate Inc.

Author: Morenike George-Taylor is a qualified Legal Practitioner that graduated from the University of Sheffield at the top of her class. She has several years of experience practicing in leading law firm owned by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and now owns her own business which focuses on solving the legal problems facing SMES and Start-ups.

Legal Business

The Importance Of Good Legal Advice When Doing Business In Nigeria Today – Morenike George-Taylor

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Morenike George-Taylor, Group Managing Director of the Flux Group (Image: Morenike George-Taylor)

Every business owner and consultant knows that taking into consideration, COVID -19 lockdowns, END SARS protest, the twitter ban and the rate of the dollar to the Naira, business in Nigeria has been a roller coaster between 2020 and 2021. Business owners had to learn a lot of things and I hope to share them in a series of articles.  However, I want to emphasize the importance of good legal advice when doing business in Nigeria. Simply put… it is critical.

Once the COVID-19 lockdown happened, it was a shock to everyone that we could all put our businesses on hold and be forced to work remotely. Zoom became more popular and it became more difficult to physically sign documents. People started using electronic signatures to sign their documents. The question is whether under Nigerian law, an electronic signature is as good as a physical signature. If someone appends an electronic signature to a document, how can you be sure it is their signature? How can you be sure that they wouldn’t deny that signature later on?

More legal issues arose with END SARS, more people had to look into what their insurance contracts cover and do not cover. With the rate of the dollar, loan agreements where businesses collected international funding went awry. A $100,000 loan given in 2019 and repayable in 2021 was now significantly harder to repay and businesses explored whether the drastic rise in the exchange rate was enough to constitute force majeure.

In the midst of all this, those with good lawyers were able to navigate the troubled waters and find solutions even where they were in between a rock and hard place. Those without good lawyers made mistakes that cost them a lot of money. A lot of businesses folded up because they were unable to survive. This is why I have the following tips:

  1. Always read legal documents before you sign them.
  2. Pay attention to the exclusion clauses in your insurance contracts.
  3. Only accept electronic signatures from trusted clients whose signatures you can confirm.
  4. Pay attention to force majeure clauses in loan agreements you execute and be careful and consider all mitigating and hedging products that can help when receiving loans repayable in foreign currency.
  5. Put everything in writing, agreements, orders, receipts and so on.
  6. Get a good lawyer on retainer.

We are all trying to survive and build thriving businesses. I hope these tips save you a penny or two as you run your business.

Article by: Morenike George-Taylor

 

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South Africa: Guidance issued on mandatory vaccination policies for the workplace

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Image: WHO

South Africa: After months of speculation, the Department of Employment and Labour in South Africa has provided guidance in relation to vaccination policies within the workplace. On 11 June 2021, the Minister published an amendment to the Consolidated Direction on Occupational Health and Safety Measures in Certain Workplaces (Directive), which makes provision for employers to implement a mandatory vaccination policy in its workplace.

Implementing the policy

Before an employer implements such a policy, it must undertake a risk assessment within 21 days of the Directive being published, i.e. by 2 July 2021. This risk assessment must:

• take into consideration the employer’s operational requirements;
• indicate whether it intends to implement a mandatory vaccination policy;
• identify which employees it will require to be vaccinated based on the risk of acquiring COVID-19 at work, or the risk of severe COVID-19 symptoms due to the employee’s age or co-morbidities; and
• be conducted in accordance with section 8 and 9 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, which places a duty on the employer to maintain a working environment for its employees and other persons that is safe and, as far as reasonably practicable, free from health risks.

Developing a plan

The employer must then develop a plan which sets out the measures it will implement to ensure the workplace is safe for its employees. This plan should indicate whether the employer intends to make the vaccine mandatory for any employees, and must identity the employees who will be required to be vaccinated, the process which will be followed to ensure compliance with the Directive and whether the employer plans to make the vaccine mandatory as and when it becomes available to employees. Any employer who is of the opinion that the vaccination of its employees is necessary for their health and safety may implement a mandatory vaccination policy. The employer’s risk assessment should, however, support this requirement and indicate that there is a legitimate need for the workforce to be vaccinated.

Right to refuse

The Directive sets out guidelines to employers when drafting and implementing a mandatory vaccination policy. In terms of the guidelines, importance is placed on “public health, the constitutional rights of employees and the efficient operation of the employer’s business.” Where an employer makes vaccination mandatory, it must notify each employee identified in the plan that such employee must be vaccinated as and when the vaccination is available to them, and that the employee may consult with a health and safety worker or trade union representative, should the employee wish to do so. Further, the employer must inform the employee of their right to refuse the vaccine on medical or constitutional grounds. These grounds are specified in the guidelines and makes provision for an employee to refuse the vaccine on the medical basis of a “contra‑indication” of the vaccine (i.e. an allergic reaction to the first dose of the vaccine or to a component of the vaccine), or the constitutional basis of the employee’s right to bodily integrity and/or right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion, as set out in section 12 and 15 of the Constitution.

The Directive prescribes that where an employee does raise one of these objections, the employer is required to counsel the employee, refer such an employee for a medical evaluation for any allergic reaction to the vaccine and, where necessary, reasonably accommodate the employee in accordance with the Code of Good Practice: Employment of People with Disabilities, as published in terms of the Employment Equity Act. Such reasonable accommodation may include allowing the employee to work offsite, at home, in isolation at the workplace, or in limited circumstance, the employer may require the employee to work with a N95 mask.

Where an employer does implement a mandatory vaccination policy and an employee refuses to be vaccinated, the employer must ensure that the grounds for refusal are considered fully and that the employee is consulted in relation to the grounds raised. However, should the employer be unable to reasonably accommodate the employee and the employee continues to refuse to be vaccinated, an incapacity procedure must be followed before the employer may terminate the employee’s contract.

Paid time off

In terms of section 4(1)(k) of the Directive, employers must give employees paid time off at the date and time of their vaccination, regardless of whether such vaccination is in terms of a vaccination policy or not, and sick leave must be used should an employee experience any adverse side effects from the vaccine. An employer may request proof of the vaccination when returning to work, or proof that the vaccination will take place during working hours. Where an employee is vaccinated in terms of the mandatory vaccination plan, the employer must afford the employee paid time off for adverse side effects of the vaccine, even if the employee has exhausted their sick leave entitlement. Alternatively, the employer may lodge a claim with the Compensation Fund, in terms of the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act. In addition, the employer should organize transport to and from the vaccination site, if possible, for employees identified in the mandatory vaccination policy.

Next steps

In order to comply with the Directive, employers must update their risk assessment of the workplace, taking into consideration any employees who are required to be vaccinated. Employers must take notice of the timeframe afforded by the Directive and ensure that the plan is in place before the 21 day period has lapsed. It is important for employers to conduct the risk assessment objectively and determine the actual need for vaccinations in the workplace and amongst certain categories of employees. Further, any objection raised by an employee should be considered seriously and the employer should try to accommodate such employee where possible. However, the employer may dismiss the employee for incapacity as a last resort.

By Kirsty Gibson, Associate, and Johan Botes, Partner and Head of the Employment & Compensation Practice, Baker McKenzie Johannesburg

 

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Developments in competition law in post-pandemic Africa

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Image Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

With the growth of economies across Africa, competition law has remained one of the key drivers for effective market participation, consumer protection and fair business practices. However, the global pandemic introduced new challenges for competition authorities in Africa and abroad, with each enforcer pursuing the most beneficial enforcement method for its national or regional jurisdiction.

According to Lerisha Naidu, Partner in Baker McKenzie’s Competition & Antitrust Practice in Johannesburg, “These efforts were aimed at curbing the persistence of unjustified price hikes, anti-competitive cooperation between competitors and other harmful business practices that sought to undermine competition. In addition to the urgent responses to the unprecedented impacts of the global COVID-19 crisis, competition authorities in countries and regions across Africa continued to introduce new laws and amend existing legislation as a sign of the rapidly increasing prioritisation of competition law enforcement on the continent.”

COVID-19 Responses

Competition authorities across the continent had already established strategies for maintaining competition and limiting instances of customer exploitation in their respective countries by early March 2020.

“Competition authorities in Kenya, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, Nigeria and South Africa reacted quickly to pandemic impacts by introducing new guidelines and regulations,” noted Angelo Tzarevski, a senior associate in Baker McKenzie’s Competition Practice in Johannesburg.

Amendments to existing laws

Various jurisdictions have recently strengthened their competition law regimes by way of amendments to the existing legislation or by introducing entirely new laws to facilitate their enforcement efforts.

“For example, Botswana’s Competition Act came into force at the end of 2018.  Kenya recently introduced a host of new laws, guidelines and rules that relate to buyer power, the valuation of assets in merger transactions, block exemption of certain mergers from notification, merger thresholds and filing fees, market definition, and new guidelines for the determination of administrative penalties. Ghana’s Draft Competition Bill is currently before parliament awaiting passage into law, and Egypt and Mauritius amended their competition legislation by introducing or giving effect to new provisions and regulations. In South Africa, price discrimination and buyer power provisions that were previously introduced by the Competition Amendment Act have since come into effect. Regulations were also issued to facilitate the interpretation and application of these provisions,” said Tzarevski.

In addition to country-specific regulation, a number of regional competition regulators in Africa are impacting domestic markets. Such regulators include the West African Economic Monetary Union (WAEMU), the East African Community (EAC), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC). While not a regional regulator, the African Competition Forum, an association of African competition agencies, promotes competition policy awareness in Africa and the adoption of competition policies and laws. The Forum also facilitates regular contact between authorities, creating a platform for the sharing of best practice and domestic competition trends.

“African competition law continues to develop at a rapid pace, boosted by the implementation of protective strategies necessary during the peak of the pandemic. An increasing number of jurisdictions have adopted laws and regulations, established authorities, secured membership to regional antitrust regimes and ramped-up enforcement of suspected violations of prevailing competition laws at both domestic and regional levels.

As such, organisations transacting across borders in Africa must ensure they are compliant with a myriad of local and intersecting regional competition laws to avoid facing the wrath of the continent’s competition authorities. Access to standardised, cross-border information on the latest competition law developments in Africa has become essential for those transacting in the region,” added Naidu.

Baker McKenzie recently produced a comprehensive guide covering the latest developments in African competition law in 25 countries across the continent – An Overview of Competition & Antitrust Regulations and Developments in Africa: 2021

By Angela Matthewson for Baker McKenzie Johannesburg

 

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