When an employee files a lawsuit against your company, you’ll need to act quickly and wisely to manage your company’s reputation. It doesn’t take much for an organization’s reputation to suffer during a legal dispute, no matter how the courts rule.
Ideally, employees would try to resolve issues within the company first, but that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes the conflict resolution process is intimidating and other times employees don’t believe it will work, so they go directly to an attorney.
If you’re facing a lawsuit brought by an employee, here’s what you can do to manage and recover your reputation.
Create consistent, intentional responses to questions
During a lawsuit, many people will ask you questions, including other employees, clients, customers, and even the press. How your staff answers matters, and if they say the wrong things, it can hurt your case. To prevent this issue, it’s important to come up with specific, consistent responses to common questions and ensure that only certain people speak about the situation to others.
Gather a list of all the questions people have been asking along with all the questions that might be asked, and come up with concise, standard answers. The shorter, the better. Once you have a list of answers, hold a meeting to share your answers with people you approve of to discuss the matter with others.
Let them know that, as a company, these are the answers they are to give when asked questions and they aren’t to elaborate.
Explain to employees not to discuss the matter
Simultaneously, you’ll want to send out a memo to your upper management teams to have them discuss the matter with employees. Have management explain to employees that they aren’t to discuss the matter with anyone. The fewer people you have discussing the situation, the less chance there is for someone to say the wrong thing.
Be extremely cautious about firing employees
When there’s a lawsuit against your company, be cautious about firing anyone for any reason, even if it’s justified. Tensions will be high and you don’t want to make the problem larger, even if it’s just the media’s spin.
Be especially cautious about firing people for discussing the lawsuit after they’ve been asked to leave the discussion to someone else. If the lawsuit is related to discrimination or retaliation allegations, and you fire someone for talking to the press, they might join the lawsuit.
It doesn’t matter if firing someone for speaking to the press is justified under their employment agreement. Employees do win wrongful termination lawsuits—sometimes to the tune of millions of dollars—so it’s important to avoid being overly confident.
Designate a point of contact for discussion
Designate someone in the company as the point of contact for discussing your legal situation. This might be you, someone else from your team, or it could be the company’s official spokesperson. Whoever you designate, make sure everyone in the company knows to refer questions to this person.
Your employees will inevitably be asked questions and they may be tempted to give their opinion, so you’ll want to prepare for this situation.
Tell your employees that when someone asks questions, they are to refer them to your designated person for answers. Explain that they are not to provide their opinion in any circumstance, since their opinion can be misconstrued as the company’s position.
Give your employees business cards to hand out in person, and show them exactly how you’d like them to handle questions over email and the phone.
Regulate your company’s social media activity
Communicating online via social media is common, but during a lawsuit, you’ll need to dial it in and control what gets posted. Your attorney will probably tell you not to delete any posts, since that can be considered evidence tampering. However, make sure you create strict controls for what gets published.
As a general rule, keep your social media posts to the point and only post what’s necessary to maintain your presence online. It would also be wise to assign someone to review every post before it’s published, preferably an attorney.
You can’t afford to make a mistake on social media, and you won’t be forgiven. People will immediately take screenshots of everything you post and it will resurface, even if it’s deleted quickly.
Persistence will help you recover
When facing a lawsuit, all you can do is take things one day at a time. Regardless of the outcome, you’ll have some cleaning up to do afterward. However, strong persistence will help you recover your company’s reputation and get operations back to normal.