Companies walk a fine line when execs are ousted for ethics violations

In the #MeToo era, numerous organizations have sacked top officers for breaching codes of conduct, and communicators stress that the decision is unrelated to core business concerns.

The prevailing crisis response in the #MeToo era is straightforward: Remove the liability.

Several companies have ousted their CEO or other high-profile leaders due to “code of ethics violations,” veiled language that indicates a potential crisis for the company’s brand.

Sometimes the employee’s departure doesn’t resolve the crisis, as was the case when Uber’s head of human resources was removed for failing to properly address discrimination complaints. Other removals might keep a bad situation from getting worse, as when the chief of Intel stepped down after disclosing an inappropriate workplace relationship.

When a company does part with a high-profile leader for ethics violations, the announcement often parses the details. Communicators take care to protect the brand’s reputation as an employer and business operation without getting into specifics.

Texas Instruments avoided impugning CEO Brian Crutcher’s business acumen, citing inappropriate conduct as the reason for his unexpected departure after only a month on the job.

It wrote in a release:

Crutcher resigned due to violations of the company’s code of conduct. The violations are related to personal behavior that is not consistent with our ethics and core values, but not related to company strategy, operations or financial reporting.

“For decades, our company’s core values and code of conduct have been foundational to how we operate and behave, and we have no tolerance for violations of our code of conduct,” said Mark Blinn, lead director of the TI Board. “Over the past 14 years, Rich has successfully led TI to become the company it is today, and we have great confidence in his values and ability to continue to lead this company forward.”

In the #MeToo era, companies have parted ways with hundreds of employees accused of misconduct.

Bloomberg wrote:

At least 437 high-profile executives and employees had been accused of harassment or other misconduct as the #metoo movement has increased scrutiny of all executive behavior over the last 18 months, according to a tally updated daily by crisis-consulting firm Temin & Co. Of those, 259 were fired or left their jobs, the study found.

“Pandora’s box has been opened and there’s no putting the lid back on,” said Davia Temin, founder and CEO of Temin & Co. “There’s been a lot of bad behavior, for a long time, and in the past it’s often been walled off or dealt with privately. But now scrutiny has been unleashed.”

In crises, internal memos can become extremely important external communications vehicles. A missive to Texas Instruments employees found its way into coverage on CNN:

In an email to employees, Templeton acknowledged the news was “unexpected” and said the company is committed to “conducting business ethically and behaving in a professional manner.”

“When we uncover situations of concern or policy violations, they will be investigated and addressed quickly,” he said. “This applies to everyone at TI, including top performers, top executives and most importantly to the CEO.”

Companies also take care to avoid implying fraud or other financial problems are behind a leader’s departure. When Barnes & Noble’s CEO was dismissed, the company did not cite the reason but provided a list of things it was not.

CNN reported:

The company did not announce a reason for the firing. It said only that the CEO was not let go because of any disagreement about “financial reporting, policies or practices or any potential fraud relating thereto.”

Other companies have stuck by their chief, denying allegations of wrongdoing. When the LaCroix beverage maker’s CEO, 82-year-old Nicholas Caporella, was accused by two pilots of unwanted touching, the company flatly denied the accusations.

CNN reported:

Lawyers representing Caporella did not immediately return messages from CNNMoney seeking comment. The Wall Street Journal, which was first to report the lawsuits, said Caporella’s attorney Glenn Waldman called the claims false and “scurrilous.” […]

“There is no truth to any of the allegations and nothing remotely akin to the alleged events occurred,” the company said in a statement.

What do you think of these crisis communications efforts, PR Daily readers?

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