What businesses need to know
Small and medium-sized enterprises have to deal with legislation in many areas. This requires understanding and the necessary basic knowledge, explains Georg Kodek, Academic Director of the Master of Legal Studies program at the WU Executive Academy.
Working from home instead of the office: in the course of the coronavirus pandemic, this has become the rule rather than the exception. At many companies, remote work has continued even after the end of the lockdowns as conditions in the world of work have changed. But particularly smaller companies should beware of potential legal risks of allowing employees to work from home, warns Georg Kodek, Chair of the Department of Private Law and a councillor at the Austrian Supreme Court of Justice. “Employers are still responsible for the number of hours their employees work. What happens if somebody works for 70 hours a week?” Respective records – or, potentially even worse, a lack thereof – could become a problem. In addition to labor law, data protection is a tricky topic when it comes to remote work. “There are many important questions to pay attention to, for instance how and for how long data is stored,” Kodek explains. And what happens if an employee hurts themselves cooking lunch at home?
The example of remote work shows that not only large companies but also small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are well advised to take a close look at the applicable laws. Regardless of an enterprise’s industry or number of employees, legal issues can always arise. “There are stipulations in labor, civil, and many other fields of law that SMEs must heed,” says Georg Kodek. Tax law, commercial law, and employee protection stipulations also have a bearing on a company’s daily business. Company owners are often overwhelmed by the sheer number of rules they have to follow. This is particularly the case as small businesses rarely have a legal department to deal with these issues. “Most enterprises try to handle these things themselves to save the costs of an external legal advisor,” Kodek explains.
Enter the WU Executive Academy’s Master of Legal Studies program. It aims to convey the required legal expertise to people who have not studied law. Or in the words of Georg Kodek, the program’s Academic Director: “The program is all about basic knowledge and a basic understanding of things.” Participants acquire broad and general knowledge in all legal fields relevant to entrepreneurs.
The next round will start in October. Demand is high, but some places are still available. Program participants hail from a wide gamut of business sectors; many also have a background in public administration. This part-time program is also a suitable continuous education offer for managers of small and medium-sized enterprises. The program focuses on civil law, corporate law, and tax law. Topics covered include contract law, competition law, and labor law. “A particularly hot topic is data protection. In this field, there are numerous things companies need to watch out for,” Kodek points out. European law is also part of the curriculum – a central topic for Austrian enterprises, for instance when warranties are concerned.
Georg Kodek has observed that not only small companies shy away from legal topics. “Many are a bit scared to delve into the subject of law.” He thinks that the master’s program will help people overcome these barriers, for which he considers an open approach key. For SMEs, it is important to recognize the situations in which they need to consult a legal expert. “So awareness-creation will be one thing.” After all, the legal framework in which Austrian enterprises do business is something they benefit from. This is the case even if some stipulations, such as those on waste management or phrasing options in service contracts, are perceived as a nuisance by some. “It is, however, exactly these rules that, taken together, make for a high-quality business location,” Georg Kodek concludes.
Further information is available on the program’s website.