Up Again Bahrain: Premises and Workplace

Employment

1. What are the key things that employers have to consider in relation to social distancing in the workplace, e.g. open plan or spacing of desks, use of shared equipment, limited access to communal facilities, canteen / restaurant, etc.?

Employees (both in the public and private sectors) have been advised to work from home to the extent possible. In particular, the government of Bahrain has announced that up to 70% of the workforce of ministerial and governmental bodies are permitted to work remotely. At this stage, they have introduced a scheme whereby employees in a specific department rotate shifts and have (informally) reduced working hours spent at the offices.

Employees must maintain social distancing of at least 1 m in all common areas, including elevators. Elevators may not be more than 30% occupied. Any equipment used by employees or customers must be regularly sanitised.

2. What key hygiene and/or infection prevention measures will employers have to take to ensure a safe workplace e.g. provision of adequate handwashing facilities, regular deep cleaning of offices, etc.?

All communal areas, including toilet facilities, must be cleaned routinely and all entrances sterilised. Masks and hand sanitiser must be provided to employees. Customers or visitors should have access to toilet facilities where they can wash their hands with soap and water.

The Ministry of Health has issued additional precautionary measures for hotels, food establishments and shopping malls.

These measures include a requirement to increase the frequency of cleaning and disinfection and performing “intensive cleaning” and disinfection throughout the day, particularly in certain areas/parts of the building such as hand rails, door handles, elevator buttons and meeting rooms.

Real Estate

3. Are there any specific obligations, liabilities or duties of conduct imposed on landlords, tenants or visitors with respect to the use or re-use and decontamination of premises; care, cleaning and maintenance of the exclusive and common areas; reporting requirements and/or measures in case of identified infections; health and safety issues - e.g. recommissioning water systems to avoid virus, installation of plexiglass screens, moving desks to comply with distancing. remodulation of fire prevention strategies (entrance/exit routes)? Is any distinction made between asset classes?

The Ministry of Health has issued various circulars and guidance documents on precautionary measures to be followed in wholesale and retail trade, manufacturing, offices, entertainment venues and construction sites.

These guidelines include increased frequency of disinfection and cleaning, capacity limits, and social distancing measures to be practiced in specific areas.

At the time of writing, malls across Bahrain have been reopened with restrictive measures such as:

  • mandatory temperature checking of all individuals entering the premises;
  • capacity limitations for retail outlets;
  • delivery and pickup limitations on food and beverage outlets; and
  • requiring customers and staff to wear protective masks.

4. Are there any rent suspension measures and/or stay of recourses and actions (including eviction) or any Government support initiatives such as a furloughed building grant scheme (if so, maybe only a part of the building should be re-occupied)? When rent suspension measures are available, what is the usual payment mechanism and timing agreed to by the parties?

The prime minister ordered the suspension of the collection of rents from tenants and beneficiaries from leased shops and lands for three months, from April 2020. The payment mechanism and timing is to be agreed by the parties.

5. Are there specific tax reliefs on payment or collection of rent instalments? Do they apply subject to actual payment or regardless? Do they apply generally or only to specific asset classes?

There are no specific tax reliefs on rent instalments.

6. Are there any measures regarding relief from the performance of real estate-related contractual obligations?

No changes to legislation governing commercial and residential tenancies have been proposed regarding real estate-related contractual obligations.

7. Are there any credit facilities in place to mitigate loss of income for landlords?

There are no credit facilities in place to mitigate loss of income specifically for landlords.

The economic stimulus package implemented by the government aimed to offer relief to all citizens affected by COVID-19. All local banks have also been obliged to offer relief on personal loan repayments for a period of six months, starting March 2020.

8. Is there any relief from loan repayments / enforcement of loans secured against properties?

All local banks have been obliged to offer relief on personal loan repayments for a period of six months, starting March 2020.

9. Are public services necessary to complete the sale, acquisition or other operation of real estate assets or companies or to establish the right to open for business (planning authorities, notary public, Land Registry, Companies’ Registry, etc.)?

Yes.

10. Are there any specific processes or protocols available to consummate real estate operations enabling them to comply with any required social distancing (e.g. electronic signature, etc.)?

Electronic signatures are governed by Decree Law No. 54 of 2018 issuing the Law on Electronic Letters and Transactions, and though businesses have been relying more heavily on the use of e-signatures during COVID-19, there are certain transactions that are ineligible. These include transactions involving the sale, purchase, lease and other dispositions of immovable property and the registration of other rights relating to immovable property.

11. Are contractors who were carrying out works within the premises obliged to resume them? Can building sites reopen when they were closed down? Are there any specific provisions in relation to certain asset classes authorising continuation / resumption of works (e.g. healthcare structures)?

The Ministry of Labour and Social Development issued a guidance document advising on precautionary measures to be taken on construction sites.

This is subject to relevant health and safety measures being applied properly to protect employees. Such health and safety measures include:

  • ensuring all employee dressing rooms are properly sanitised;
  • providing all adequate personal preventive equipment (including protective clothing, masks, gloves, disinfectants, sanitisers, cleaning materials or other equipment designed to protect the wearer's body from injury or infection) to all employees;
  • reducing the number of employees on premises;
  • instructing employees to implement social-distancing procedures (1 m distance) among themselves;
  • monitoring employee temperatures on a daily basis before they enter work premises;
  • in the event of a suspected case, ensuring avoidance of contact with individuals and immediately notifying the Ministry of Health through the National COVID-19 Hotline (#444); and
  • instructing employees to frequently wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or alternatively use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser that contains at least 60% alcohol.

12. Are there remedies or contractual arrangements available to address impossibility or delay for a party to handover premises to another which are/were to be constructed or refurbished, or for such other party to take over those premises?

The contractual arrangements will vary and the remedies for impossibility or delay for handover of the premises are contract-specific.

Frustration and force majeure may also be relevant.

13. Has the duration of validity of administrative authorisations pertaining to development/construction of real estate assets (in particular planning authorisations) been extended?

At present, there have been no legislative changes relating to the duration of resource consents and building consents.

Litigation and Regulation

14. Is the use of disclaimers for visitors or others coming on to the site of business useful for limiting potential future COVID-19 claims?

Asking visitors or others to sign a disclaimer may prompt people to take more responsibility for themselves and deter claims being made in the first place.

But it is unlikely that such a disclaimer can be used to abrogate duties imposed on business owners during the crisis, including those under government guidelines, such as implementing social-distancing procedures, providing enhanced sanitisation, and carrying out temperature checks.