Our recent Seminar -

Our recent Seminar - "Is There Something I Should Know?" - Managing Reputational Risk: PR, Confidentiality and Employment Litigation

28th February 2014

We were delighted that Simon Goldie from our PR advisers, Mattison Public Relations, joined Paul Quain to co-present at our recent seminar.

The seminar was entitled “Managing reputational risk in employment disputes.”  

Here is Simon’s summary of the seminar content from a PR perspective:

Dealing with a disgruntled employee who is taking your company to a tribunal or court is difficult enough. Such cases can have a negative impact on staff morale and be costly in terms of time and money.

What about the potential risks to your organisation’s reputation from an employment dispute? If the case is reported by the press there is a risk of ‘trial by media’ and potential damage to your company’s image. Sadly, there isn’t a magic formula that can be applied to keeping a story out of the news. If there is a public interest angle to the case the press will want to cover it. But there are things that can be done to mitigate the risk of reputational damage.

As with most things in life, it comes down to preparation. One of the most frequent mistakes we see is not informing the relevant people in the company early on about what is happening. Good practice should mean that the public relations and human resources teams talk to the in-house counsel or law firm dealing with the employment case at an early stage. The PR team should have a ‘crisis’ communication plan ready. The plan will detail who signs off public statements, when and how you inform staff and what to do if journalists arrive at your offices seeking out information.

Working with HR and the lawyers, the PR professionals will draft statements ready to be issued if the case becomes public. The employees attending the employment tribunal or court as witnesses will require a briefing on what to do if approached by a journalist and what to expect during the hearing.

If your company is already in the news - for example because the business is associated with a high profile issue such as bank remuneration - the journalist may have a reason to write about the dispute even if the case itself is run-of-the-mill. Other things that might attract journalists to the story are cases involving large sums of money or if the case centres on an issue that captures the zeitgeist, such as sexual harassment.

There is also the danger that the employee, or their lawyer, leaks the story to the press hoping to catch you off guard. Basic contingency planning for a high profile employer will include statements prepared by the PR team so that the company can quickly issue a comment explaining their position without saying anything that undermines the hearing.

During the case, the PR team will be monitoring the media, along with social media sites such as Twitter for any mention of the case and its participants. If something is posted, the best response may be no response at all. But it is important to track what is being said and that the PR, legal and HR teams discuss possible responses.     

If the judgement goes against the company and the employee is awarded a big pay out (which may occur further down the line following the initial decision on liability), further negative coverage should be expected. Before releasing a statement it is worth thinking about whether your comment will fan the flames of the story or put it to rest. If it is the former then it is best to remain silent. That doesn’t mean you and your PR team can’t be proactive. After the dispute is settled you will have the opportunity to take stock and think about ways in which you can rebuild your company’s reputation.

Key tips

  • Get key people involved early on
  • Prepare and plan for what might happen
  • You may never need them but get your statements drafted and signed off
  • Make sure you inform the people who need to know before they find out from another source
  • If you can’t comment explain to the journalist why you can’t comment

For further information with regard to managing PR during such times please contact Simon Goldie of Mattison Public Relations

020 7645 3636
[email protected]
Web: www.mattison.co.uk

For legal advice please contact Paul Quain

020 3375 0334
Email: [email protected]

For copies of the seminar presentation please email [email protected]