As the economic crisis caused by COVID-19 evolves and worsens, there are many novel questions that government contractors and government agencies face. Certain FAR clauses that limit a contractor’s right to recover damages need to be revisited, including the clause entitled “Default (Fixed-Price Construction)” found at FAR 52.249-10. Under this clause, delay resulting from an Act of God, such as an epidemic, is excusable, but it is also non-compensable. This holds out the very real possibility of significant financial harm to construction contractors and seems to run counter to the government’s objective of preserving companies so that there will be an economic recovery once the crisis is over.
Currently, Department of Defense agencies are making every effort to treat projects as essential to the national defense and contractors are permitted, and in some cases directed, to continue performance. Since the government wants projects to continue, and government contractors want to keep working, there appears to be a commonality of interest. Contractor employees, however, are increasingly concerned about their personal health and safety and, in some cases, are refusing to report for work. This is compounded by the Permits and Responsibilities clause (FAR 52.236.7), which requires contractors to comply with “State, and municipal laws, codes, and regulations applicable to the performance of the work.” Accordingly, even though the federal government requires work to continue, state and local governments may be requiring people to maintain social distancing and stay at home. Even if exemptions are granted for government contractors working on essential projects, that does not lessen the legitimate concern of workers who are fearful of health risks.
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