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World News

U.K. Law May Fine Carriers 10% of Sales for Breaching Huawei Ban

The U.K. government has proposed a law that will fine phone companies as much as 10% of sales or 100,000 pounds a day ($133,000) if they break new telecom security rules, including the forthcoming ban on Huawei Technologies Co.’s equipment for 5G networks.

The Telecommunications Security Bill is meant to oversee 5G mobile and fiber networks and will include electronic equipment and software that handles internet traffic and phone calls, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said in a statement Tuesday. Communications regulator Ofcom will be in charge of enforcement.

The bill will give the government the power to implement and enforce the ban on Huawei’s 5G equipment that it announced in July. Carriers have until the end of 2020 to stop buying the gear, after the U.K. deemed the Chinese technology giant a security risk, and the companies must remove existing Huawei equipment from their 5G networks by 2027.

Read More: U.K. Phone Market Will Be Duopoly for Years After Huawei Ban

“This will be a significant step to protect the U.K. from hostile cyber activity by state actors or criminals,” the DCMS said in the statement. “Over the past two years the government has attributed a range of cyber attacks to Russia and China, as well as North Korea and Iranian actors.”

Huawei has denied that its equipment poses a security risk and Vice President Victor Zhang said in an emailed statement that the U.K. decision to ban it from 5G is “politically motivated” and “does not serve anyone’s best interests as it would move Britain into the digital slow lane.”

The fines are designed to remedy a system where Britain’s wireless carriers set their own security standards and often have “little incentive to adopt the best security practices,” the DCMS said.

Lawmakers are set to debate the bill next week. They could face a rebellion from some who want Huawei gear removed more quickly, though without the Chinese company, the U.K.’s mobile networks will lean heavily on its Nordic rivals Nokia Oyj and Ericsson AB.

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Business

Millions of Americans Expect to Lose Their Homes as Covid Rages

Millions of Americans expect to face eviction by the end of this year, adding to the suffering inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic raging across the U.S.

About 5.8 million adults say they are somewhat to very likely to face eviction or foreclosure in the next two months, according to a survey completed Nov. 9 by the U.S. Census Bureau. That accounts for a third of the 17.8 million adults in households that are behind on rent or mortgage payments.

The CARES Act, signed into law last March, allows homeowners to pause mortgage payments for up to a year if they experience hardship as a result of the pandemic. Borrowers who signed up at the start of the program could face foreclosure by March.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s nationwide temporary suspension on evictions — aimed at stemming the spread of coronavirus — is slated to end Dec. 31. The timing is far from ideal given millions of people are also set to lose their unemployment benefits at year-end without an extension from Congress.

Roughly half of households not current on their rent or mortgage payments in Arkansas, Florida and Nevada think there’s a “strong chance” of eviction by early January. This equates to more than 750,000 homes where an eviction is the biggest worry, according to the survey.

By metro area, the threat of eviction is most pressing in New York City, Houston and Atlanta.

Coronavirus, which has killed more than 256,000 Americans so far, is on track to claim another 30,000 lives by mid-December, according to forecasts from the CDC. The model shows weekly cases and deaths both rising every week for the next month, the maximum range of the agency’s projection.

President-elect Joe Biden in March expressed his support for rent freezes and eviction moratoriums due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

— With assistance by Reade Pickert, Prashant Gopal, and Nic Querolo

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Business

Employers are frantically calling labor lawyers to ask if they can make a coronavirus vaccine mandatory in the workplace

  • The recent news of two promising coronavirus vaccines has led more employers to begin seriously thinking about vaccination policies at the workplace.
  • Labor and unemployment lawyers have seen a flood of the same inquiry from clients across various industries: Can they make it mandatory for employees to get vaccinated for the coronavirus?
  • Employers could be allowed to mandate vaccinations given certain medical and religious accommodations.
  • But some attorneys anticipate that it's more likely that companies will strongly encourage, rather than require, that their employees get vaccinated.
  • There are still many unknowns with the vaccines and health and safety regulations, which will invariably factor into any legal advice that lawyers give.
  • In either case, one sure thing is that labor and employment attorneys will be in high demand as companies continue to grapple with questions surrounding the ongoing pandemic.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

With the prospect of a coronavirus vaccine drawing sooner than many had initially expected, labor and employment lawyers are seeing a surge in clients asking the same question: Is it legal to make workplace COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory?

Pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Moderna have both said that their vaccines are about 95% effective.

Pfizer applied for emergency authorization for its vaccine on Friday, and it could be available by mid to late December if regulators sign off on it. 

Employers are already considering their next steps — and are turning to attorneys for legal advice.

L&E lawyers told Business Insider that they've been fielding a couple of calls every day from clients, ranging from white-collar workplaces to healthcare companies, specifically about the question of whether they can make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for their employees.

Jimmy Robinson, managing shareholder at the L&E firm Ogletree Deakins, said that seven different clients reached out to him on one day with that concern.

"They all want to make sure they're taking care of their workforce," he explained. "They want to protect their biggest asset: not the product, but the people."

Recognizing the rise in demand for legal advice surrounding the vaccine, Ogletree has formed a vaccination task force dedicated to providing consolidated advice across the firm's 54 offices, similar to the coronavirus task force it had launched over the past year, said Robinson.

Read more: Labor and employment attorneys are seeing a surge in business, and big firms are setting up coronavirus task forces to help clients navigate layoffs and workplace safety

So can you make a coronavirus vaccination mandatory at the workplace?

The most common question that clients are asking: Can you make it mandatory for employees to get a coronavirus vaccine?

The short answer is yes, though there should be medical and religious accommodations in place, said Robinson. He added that the requirements surrounding accommodations may vary from state to state, and court to court.

That said, employers must also meet one of the standards under the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to Karla Grossenbacher, chair of Seyfarth Shaw's L&E practice in Washington, DC.

Under the ADA, employers can require medical examinations and vaccinations from their employees if it is necessary for their profession — as is the case with some healthcare workers, for example — or if it poses a "direct threat" to the health and safety of the individual should they be exempted, Grossenbacher explained.

While the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency that enforces civil rights laws against workplace discrimination, has designated COVID-19 as a direct threat, allowing employers to mandate temperature checks, mask wearing, and social distancing measures, it has yet to issue any similar guidance when it comes to coronavirus vaccinations. 

Though the EEOC previously issued guidance on the flu vaccine, recommending that employers simply recommend that employees get vaccinated rather than requiring it, the "direct threat" standard and the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic may change that, depending on what we end up learning about the vaccines, said Grossenbacher.

Michael Roche, who leads the labor and employment practice at Winston & Strawn, said he anticipates most companies will strongly encourage employees to get vaccinated, but not require it. Besides the administrative burden of complying with the requirements of the EEOC and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, he noted that requiring a vaccine might subject an employer to liability for side effects or adverse reactions.

Clients are also asking questions about more immediate pandemic concerns

It may still be months before vaccines are available for everyone who wants them, however, and employers have other pressing questions. 

 If vaccines from both Pfizer and Moderna get authorized, about 20 million people in the US could get vaccinated by January, and more in the following months, only a fraction of the estimated US population of 330 million.

Thomas Wassel, a partner at the law firm Cullen and Dykman on Long Island, said questions about mandatory vaccination haven't started rolling in yet, but his clients are asking what to do about employees who are afraid to come to work and worried about the possibility of contracting the coronavirus on public transit.

In many cases, he said, employees must come to work, although he noted that federal and state laws created new rules around sickness leave and caretaking leave that cover many employers.

More imminently, said Nathaniel Glasser, a partner at Epstein Becker Green, clients are asking whether and to what extent they can restrict their employees from attending big gatherings like Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations. Public health experts have warned that festive gatherings of people who don't live together, especially indoors, pose a high risk for COVID-19 transmission.

"It's becoming a big, big question," Glasser said.

There's also a slew of other questions related to vaccinations, said Ogletree's Robinson, like who's going to pay for the vaccines, whether employers can request that employees disclose whether they do get vaccinated to determine who can safely return to the office, and whether preventing someone from doing so on the grounds that they did not get vaccinated poses a liability risk for the employer.

A very likely uptick in work for labor & employment lawyers given the many unknowns

Like many things about the coronavirus, there still remains a lot of unknowns with the vaccines.

"There are a whole host of questions that haven't been answered yet," said Guy Brenner, a partner who leads Proskauer's L&E practice in Washington, DC. "Before we even get to the legal analyses, we have to know the facts: Will the vaccines be widely available? Can employers have access to it?"

This is especially the case since legal advice requires a case-by-case, fact-specific determination, depending on circumstances like the particular job and the contours of the vaccines, explained Brenner.

There's also a political unknown that could come into play, too, Brenner added, who sees how a different administration under President-elect Joe Biden might issue more detailed guidance on safety and workplace, such as those regulated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA. New or stricter legislation will invariably have to be factored into employers' vaccination policies.

All this means that L&E lawyers are likely going to be having their hands full in the coming months.

"As new laws are put in place across the country, clients are going to need help ensuring they meet those rules and guidelines," said Robinson.

Do you have a personal experience with the coronavirus you’d like to share? Or a tip on how your town or community is handling the pandemic? Please email [email protected] and tell us your story.

Get the latest coronavirus business & economic impact analysis from Business Insider Intelligence on how COVID-19 is affecting industries.

Learn more about the financial services industry.

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World News

Top Chinese Official for Hong Kong Signals More Changes to Law

China signaled further changes to Hong Kong law, in the wake of moves by Beijing to impose a sweeping national security law and require loyalty from city lawmakers.

Zhang Xiaoming, a deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office in Beijing, made his remarks Tuesday on a seminar to mark the 30th anniversary of the Hong Kong Basic Law. The so-called mini-constitution was drafted to maintain a “high degree of autonomy” for the former British colony for at least 50 years after its return to Chinese rule in 1997.

“We need to see the Basic Law as a law that is alive,” Zhang said. “By interpreting the Basic Law, it can expand applicability of the law. Outside of the Basic Law, it is also necessary to identify ways to continuously optimize systems in relation to the Basic Law.”

The Legislative Council loyalty clause added to the questions about Beijing’s commitment to Hong Kong’s autonomy, after the enactment in June of the controversial security legislation. The city’s “one country, two systems” framework, which guarantees an independent judiciary and capitalist financial system, has been credited with preserving its status as a global financial hub.

China’s moves came in the wake of historic pro-democracy demonstrations that rocked the city last year. While the rallies have all but ground to a halt, people in the city have found other ways to protest, including by patronizing so-called “yellow” businesses sympathetic to the democracy cause.

Zhang listed such tactics in his remarks as something the government aimed to stop. If there are no street “riots or filibustering in the Legislative Council, citizens will not need to worry about ‘yellow’ or ‘blue’ when going to restaurants. Everyone can enjoy freedom without fear,” he said.

Still, Zhang said China would continue to preserve capitalism in the Asian financial hub.

“We need to respect capitalism in Hong Kong, and at the same time, respect socialism in mainland China,” he said. “We understand that Hong Kong has many international competitive advantages. But we also need to recognize that Hong Kong’s development is increasingly dependent and benefits from the mainland.”

— With assistance by Lucille Liu, and Felix Tam

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Markets

Philippines Probes Money Flows Linked to Wirecard, Ex-Official

The Philippines is examining financial transactions of a law office and a tour operator that “appeared to have acted for” Wirecard AG or the company’s former chief operating officer Jan Marsalek, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said.

The National Bureau of Investigation has submitted a progress report on its probe with the Anti-Money Laundering Council, Guevarra said in mobile-phone messages, without naming the companies under investigation. Three immigration officials who allegedly tampered with Marsalek’s travel records in the Philippines have been charged and suspended, the official added.

The anti-money laundering council said in September that it’s scrutinizing 57 foreigners and local bank officers for possible ties to the German firm implicated in an accounting scandal. The central bank has also banned former bank employees from the industry for allegedly falsifying documents for Wirecard.

Philippine lenders BDO Unibank Inc. and Bank of the Philippine Islands earlier said that they didn’t have a relationship with Wirecard, and that rogue employees falsified documents that indicated the presence of some funds. The central bank has also said that none of Wirecard’s missing cash entered the country’s financial system.

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Markets

SEC Whistle-Blower Gets $28 Million in Another Huge 2020 Payout

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission paid $28 million to a whistle-blower who provided information that led to a successful enforcement action, adding to the eye-popping awards that tipsters have received from the agency this year.

“In the past month alone, the commission has awarded four whistle-blowers over $150 million,” Jane Norberg, chief of the SEC’s office of the whistle-blower, said in a statement. “I hope our recent awards will continue to incentivize whistle-blowers to come forward to report potential fraud or other wrongdoing.”

The SEC didn’t provide information on the individual’s identity or the company involved, citing federal law that protects confidentiality. The tipster reported the alleged misconduct internally, prompting the company to start an investigation. That saved the SEC time and resources by providing testimony and allowing the agency to identify a key witness, according to the statement.

The SEC has paid out loads of awards in 2020, including a record $114 million payment last month. For the fiscal year that ended in September, the regulator’s rewards totaled $175 million. The agency has paid out about $715 million to 110 individuals since issuing its first award in 2012.

Whistle-blowers are eligible for payouts if they voluntarily give the SEC unique information that leads to a successful enforcement action. Compensation can range from 10% to 30% of the money collected in cases where sanctions exceed $1 million.

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World News

Polish Ruling Party’s Backing Plunges After Court Abortion Ban

Support for Poland’s ruling party plunged after its chairman, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, defended a Supreme Court abortion ruling, denounced protesters and called on people to defend churches “at all costs.”

More than half a million Poles protested in about 500 towns and cities on Friday against the Oct. 22 ruling, which effectively banned all abortions except for in cases of incest, rape or danger to the mother’s life.

The verdict, which arose from a court challenge from the governing Law & Justice Party, further tightened one of Europe’s strictest abortion legal regimes and requires that fetuses with lethal birth defects be carried to term and delivered.

Party Chairman Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the nation’s most powerful politician, denounced the pro-choice ralliers as “nihilists.” Law & Justice has vowed to return Polish society to its traditional Catholic roots and opposes the European Union’s liberal, multi-cultural values, a stance that has put it at odds with the bloc.

But the party’s support has fallen since the court ruling. Last month, 30.9% of Poles backed Law & Justice, a decline of 9.6 percentage points, according to an Oct. 31 poll by United Surveys for Radio RMF and Dziennik newspaper. The opposition-leading Civic Coalition gained two points to 25.3%.

‘Wait It Out’

Nearly 70% Poles saw Kaczynski’s recent actions negatively and more than 70% believe he should step down as head of the party, according to a separate survey by the IBRiS pollster for the Rzeczpospolita newspaper.

“We can see tumbling support in several polls but the ruling party seems to believe it can wait it out,” Jaroslaw Flis, a sociologist at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, said on TVN24 Monday. The next general election is scheduled for 2023.

Kaczynski’s denunciation of the protests has only inflamed the anger over the court ruling, while right-wing activists have clashed with protesters and the police.

On Friday over 800,000 people protested across Poland, including over 100,000 who gathered in the capital in a peaceful march. More street blockades are expected Monday, with organizers saying they will continue until the court ruling’s consequences are reversed.

The United Surveys poll also showed that 60% don’t support an offer of compromise by President Andrzej Duda, who has proposed allowing abortions in cases in which the fetus wouldn’t survive birth.

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