How to Survive a Legal Catastrophe

When you're embroiled in a staff-related lawsuit, things can get very uncomfortable. Here's how to keep your staff intact

Written by Laura Williams

Say you botched a firing and are getting sued for wrongful dismissal.

Or a senior manager has been accused of harassment.

Or your workplace is under investigation for a health and safety infraction.

You don’t want any of these nasty employment-law scenarios to happen in your business; no one does. But they do happen. And they’re the kind of scenarios that become very expensive and shake the resolve of even the most seasoned CEO.

I regularly counsel employers through these types of incidents. Understandably, they stress over the financial consequences stemming from a protracted legal battle or out-of-court settlement—not to mention the negative press or reputation damage that could be inflicted on their firm.

What often slips their mind, however, is perhaps the most important consideration of all: how to rebuild a workplace culture battered by one of those unsettling disputes. And that’s too their detriment, as doing so is crucial to any organization’s bottom-line rebound after a culture-shaking event.

Why worry? Because a strong workplace culture is critical to attracting, retaining and engaging top talent. Workplaces with strong cultures also tend to be safer, experience far less employee turnover and absenteeism and boast stronger bottom-line performance.

The unfortunate reality is that most workplaces in Canada earn a failing grade when it comes to workplace culture. Case in point: a 2012 Ipsos Reid survey found that less than half of Canadian employees were satisfied with internal communications within their organizations. They didn’t feel their employers listened to their concerns or that senior management communicated a clear vision. Roughly the same amount of survey respondents reported not having confidence in their managers’ decisions. In short, most Canadians are disengaged on the job and it could be costing Canadian companies billions of dollars each year in lost revenue potential.

The good news is that disruptive incidents needn’t derail your carefully-crafted culture. By taking a proactive approach to employment law and designing engagement-fostering policies, organizations of all sizes can shield their bottom lines from the fallout after a major workplace upheaval.

How? It starts with smart policy design. That means employees have a clear understanding of their responsibilities, management has a clear role in communicating corporate objectives and rules are applied clearly and consistently. Next, it’s about reinforcing cultural expectations and hiring and training effective leaders who not only enforce those rules, but can inspire their employees with sound leadership and smart strategic decisions—particularly on the hiring front. Lastly, it takes a commitment to continuously nurture the kind of workplace culture where respect, integrity and communication help breed new ideas and innovations.

Still, there are times when disruptive incidents will threaten a workplace culture, and when a CEO may not have utilized some of these proactive culture-preserving tactics. Not to worry—there are simple steps organizations can take to competently handle challenging events even as they unfold.

Ensuring strong communication of impending changes is an ideal starting point. Nothing gets the rumour mill going quite like silence. Proactive communication involves making management accessible to address employees’ questions and concerns, while also training managers to maintain communication consistency and connect the organization’s approach to resolving challenges with its overall corporate objectives and expectations.

When clear communications and consistent adherence to HR laws and workplace policies won’t resolve an issue—as is sometimes the case, unfortunately—organizations need to build a post-incident assessment into the resolution process to help determine its effects, then evaluate what additional steps are required to restore relationships and rebuild their culture.

Sometimes that requires facilitated staff and management meetings, possibly under the watch of an HR lawyer or trained HR consultant. It also requires management coaching to rebuild morale and remind managers of their role as culture ambassadors, enhanced performance monitoring to ensure peak productivity and, often, team-building exercises to improve relationships and reiterate core values. In worst-case scenarios, shift changes (to minimize contentious staff interactions) or even outright terminations may be necessary.

Rebuilding a damaged culture is tricky, but it can be achieved with a customized approach paired with enough managerial support (and patience!) to allow the process to work. Your business may even re-emerge in better shape—and boasting a stronger bottom line—than before that seemingly culture-crippling incident occurred.

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com