A PR firestorm is no time to learn you’ve left out something critical from your crisis plan.
Your crisis plan likely includes key personnel from each department, so you know that in each situation you’ll have the right corporate team member to help. Your crisis team may even include someone from the legal department, if the organization is big enough.
For many businesses, however, there is no legal department, and there may not even be an attorney to call. That means you may need to know some legal basics, even if you are not a legal advisor.
In trying to control the public perception during an organizational crisis, possessing some legal knowledge can be the difference between fueling the fire and helping to extinguish it.
While there are many different laws, possessing a basic understanding of the following four laws will enable you to approach most situation with a more tailored plan.
The social nature of online communication makes it easy to say anything about anyone at any time. On more frequent occasions, companies are finding out they’re at the mercy of rating and review sites, bloggers who take exception to something the company says or does, or former employees who may take a professional dispute public.
While defamation law
varies from state to state, there are many key elements that are consistent across the country. Understanding those basics will enable you, as the crisis manager, to bring in the right people at the right time. Working with legal counsel, it will make it easier to craft a response that is legally sensitive as well as informative. With the ability for the public to replicate the defamatory message at lightning speed, your job becomes even more critical.
2. Employment issues
An employment-related crisis is likely one of the top areas for which you help your clients plan. While there are thousands of nuanced employment laws
and regulations, there are some aspects of employment law that tend to be more critical than others.
For example, knowing the position the National Labor Relations Board has taken on the rights of employees to share information on social media will make your job of responding to the public and updating your clients easier.
The same goes for whistleblower laws. Companies likely have a human resources department, but that does not always mean they’re capable of seeing the situation from a different perspective. Knowing how to communicate with HR in their own language adds credibility, regardless of whether you’re dealing with a waitress fired for sharing a photo of a receipt
or an executive charged with insider trading.
3. Preservation of data and evidence
This is one area that lacks a clear-cut legal guide. As a crisis manager you know the importance of sharing factual information. Your client also knows there may be times it would like to rewind and pretend something didn’t exist or happen. Social media has a way of reminding people of their past, should they forget. Plenty of people are analyzing your every word and step. You’ve read more than once about posts, updates, or tweets that have been deleted.
It’s important to know that whether it’s evidence your client may need to prove its case or that may be used against it, failing to preserve the data or evidence makes your job more difficult creates potential legal liability.
Many in social media know about the FTC disclosure laws
, but when it comes to crisis management, the alphabet soup of governmental organizations may have additional disclosure laws or, more importantly, prohibitions on certain types of disclosures.
When working with highly regulated issues such as banking, finance, securities, pharmaceuticals, or medical devices, knowing if your client has limitations on what information can be shared is critical. You don’t have to be the expert on those laws, but knowing they exist and understanding how they will affect your messaging will enable you to craft a plan that is proactive and still within the limitations. In addition, it can relieve stress with legal or compliance if those departments know you’re aware of the limitations.
For an additional law to know in a PR crisis, visit the blog MelissaAgnes.com, where a version of this story first appeared.
Sara Hawkins is the creator of a Blog Law series, which aims to help bloggers, entrepreneurs, and online professionals gain legal confidence. Sara is a licensed attorney providing counsel to entrepreneurs and online professionals. She can be found on twitter at @Saving4Someday.
This article is for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice.