Our Brand is Crisis … prevention and management

March 06, 2017 0 COMMENTS

Alleged communications with Russian officials, an Attorney General recusal, and claims of impermissible wiretapping. Guess you could say it’s been an active past few days in the world of U.S. politics. Heck, it’s been a flurry of activity for a while now, and more is certainly to come, starting with the revised executive order regarding immigration that was announced today. Crisis Averted

Interestingly, and perhaps appropriately, I happened to watch a movie called Our Brand is Crisis two days ago while flying home from a business trip. The 2015 movie, which is based on a 2005 documentary of the same name, is a fictionalized account of the involvement of American political campaign strategists during the 2002 Bolivian presidential election. As a form of entertainment, the movie has its flaws but does have a great performance by Sandra Bullock (and though I have heard the documentary is much better, I haven’t personally seen it yet). I won’t get into much in the way of specifics except to say that in the movie, Bullock’s campaign manager and her team decide that their “brand is crisis”namely, that their strategy is to declare and sell crisis (economic, cultural, and social) by whatever means necessary to promote their candidate.

Now, I think we can agree that selling crisis is a political maneuver that all campaigns and politicians, regardless of party affiliation, have used over the course of our nation’s history. Almost every candidate runs on a platform that he or she has the best plans to solve the voter’s problems, and this was no different with President Trump, who often cited the United States’ economic and immigration issues as reasons for a change from the Washington establishment. In today’s politically charged climate, however, selling crisis as a means to gather support or opposition is a virtual daily news cycle.

Opponents of the Trump administration claim that Trump went beyond the pale in promoting crisis and has not offered effective solutions and that the President’s allegations of impermissible wiretapping are simply a means to deflect from the administration’s issues by creating a new contention out of whole cloth. Supporters of the Trump administration claim that many in the media, and other individuals on the left, are improperly attacking the administration’s credibility and ability by stirring up unsubstantiated crisis, including claims of improper communications with Russian officials. Regardless of what side you agree with, the fact is that wherever you turn, crisis is front-page news.

What this means for employers

Obviously, from an employment and HR perspective, the approach is radically different. While politics may involve the selling of crisis to drum up support or opposition, running or managing a business necessitates procedures meant to prevent crisis, and to manage crisis effectively when it does rear its ugly head.

This doesn’t mean just from an employment perspective and the potential problems that could be raised due to employer-employee issues. This also includes nonemployment-related crisesthose that effect the business’ reputation, customer relations, and bottom line. In such cases, you not only have to recognize that such crises could eventually seep into employment-related issues and employee morale, but understand and think out of the box as to how you can use your employees in a positive manner within your organizational structure as a means to respond to this crisis, including reducing any potential negative impact. This means shifting the thinking of employees as a burden from a legal compliance point of view to understanding that employees at all levels can affirmatively be part of crisis prevention and be a visible and positive liaison to your customers and the world in diffusing the effects of a crisis that does unfold.

Regardless of the source of the crisis, effective internal communications are keys to crisis avoidance and management. Creation of appropriate policies and procedures, while of course integral, has no positive affect if the organization doesn’t carry out effective communication of those policies, appropriately follow those policies, and prepare ahead of time through scenario planning and messaging.

Be proactive and anticipatory. Provide training and test protocols. Define risk and react appropriately. Give employees the tools and means necessary to report issues so that you are aware before it escalates further. By taking these steps, you will not only limit the possibility of crisis within the workplace, but more importantly be able to manage that crisis if it comes up unexpectedly.

Hurricane season brings unique employer issues

October 10, 2016 0 COMMENTS

In the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, evacuation orders are lifting and recovery efforts are in their early stages. Employers are facing a number of storm-related issues as they prepare to resume normal operations. Here are just a few of the questions employers are asking.  Hurricane Season Sign With Stormy Background

1.  Does the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) require me to pay employees who miss work because of the weather?  It depends on whether the employee is exempt or non-exempt. If the business closes because of the weather, the FLSA requires employers to pay an exempt employee his or her regular salary for any shutdown that lasts less than a week. If the business remains open but an employee cannot get to work because of the weather, an employer can deduct an exempt employee’s salary for a full day’s absence. Employers generally aren’t required to pay nonexempt employees for any days that they don’t perform any actual work. However, this doesn’t apply to nonexempt employees who are paid on a fluctuating workweek basis.

2.  Am I required to pay an employee for on-call time? Under the FLSA, if the employer requires an employee to be on-call while the office is closed due to weather emergency and the employee cannot effectively use the time for his or her own purposes, the employer must pay the employee for the on-call time.  Employers are not required to pay employees who are at home and available to the employer but able to use the time for their own purposes. Check your state laws for any additional requirements.

3.  Are employees who are discharged as a result of the storm entitled to unemployment compensation? Employees who are out of work for reasons other than their own misconduct generally are entitled to unemployment compensation as long as they have met the state law requirements. In some states, an employer’s unemployment compensation account isn’t charged when an employee is discharged because of a natural disaster.

4.  Are workers’ compensation claims the exclusive remedy for employees who are injured at work due to conditions that resulted from a tropical storm or hurricane? Generally, employees who are injured during the course and scope of employment are limited to workers’ compensation claims and cannot sue the employer in court over the injuries. If, however, the injuries are the result of an employer’s deliberate or intentional conduct rather than an accident, the employee may have the ability to sue the employer in court. Employers should check their state laws.

Employers may be faced with a variety of employment-related issues during the hurricane season. As Hurricane Matthew recovery efforts continue, it’s important to keep in mind that employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthful workplace for their employees.  Employers are required to protect workers from the anticipated hazards associated with the response and recovery operations that workers are likely to conduct. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has some excellent resources available on its website to help employers make decisions to protect workers.

Show must go on: helping employees in crisis

June 13, 2016 0 COMMENTS

ORLANDO  The 70th annual Tony Awards were held on Sunday night to recognize achievements in Broadway productions over the past year.  The excitement and enthusiasm of the occasion were dampened, however, as many presenters and award recipients gave words of tribute to the victims of Orlando’s mass-shooting that occurred earlier that morning.  I live and work in Orlando, not far from where the massacre occurred, and my heart is heavy as I write this post. In light of such a horrific event, what can I possibly say about employment law and entertainment? What witticisms can I offer in such a time as this? There are none. But as I was watching the Tony Awards, I was reminded of the theater world’s mantra:  Even in times of turmoil and upheaval, the show must go on.

Unfortunately, all of us must deal with a crisis at some point in our lives, whether it occurs in the form of a national tragedy or more personal issues such as medical problems, financial distress, or the loss of a loved one or relationship.  Although you cannot prevent these issues from affecting your employees, you can help them through a crisis in a way that will keep your business on track.

In an Inc.com article titled “Helping Your Employees in a Time of Crisis,” HR professional Suzanne Lucas suggests several ways that managers can assist employees in the midst of a life crisis, including showing empathy, referring workers to an employee assistance program (EAP), and complying with employment laws that may protect the employees.

Show empathy and compassion

First, it should go without saying but the most important thing you can do as a human resources professional or manager to help an employee who is grappling with a major life problem is to show empathy and compassion.  If you know an employee’s attendance or performance is being negatively affected by a personal crisis, you should first trying talking to the employee to find out what the employee needs to bring his or her performance back up to an acceptable level. Using threats of discipline or discharge will serve  only to alienate the employee and cause the performance to deteriorate further. Of course, there may come a point when it’s necessary to discipline an employee for violating company policy, but that should not be your initial, knee-jerk reaction for dealing with an individual in the throes of a crisis.

Refer employee to EAP

Second, if you know or suspect that an employee is having problems, you should refer the individual to an EAP.  Many employers have EAPs that offer counseling and legal services 24 hours a day to struggling employees. By making the referral to the EAP, employers can help the employee seek help in a confidential manner while protecting the employer from the legal risks associated with becoming too involved in the details of an employee’s personal life.

Follow the law

Third, when you are interacting with an employee who is going through a major life problem, such as a divorce or medical diagnosis, employers must follow the law.  Depending on the size of your company, an employee may be entitled to take medical, family, or disability leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to obtain medical treatment or counseling, deal with episodes of depression and anxiety, or help a loved one who is suffering from a serious medical condition. Also, even if an employee’s situation doesn’t fall within the parameters of the FMLA or ADA, you should consider using other methods, such as bereavement or personal leave, to enable the employee to survive the crisis without forfeiting his or her job.

At work, as on stage, the show must go on. By following these steps, you can help your employees navigate through a time of crisis without disrupting your business.