Tips To Help You Prevent An Avoidable Workplace Crisis

Erik Bernstein Articles Crisis Management and the Law

Note: The following article was reproduced with permission from Gempler’s ALERT, the newsletter of Ag/Hort safety and employment law compliance, website:

“Ninety-five percent of the crises to which I’ve responded could have been completely prevented, or greatly reduced.”

— Jonathan Bernstein

How prepared are you for a potential crisis in your operation? Could the crisis have been avoided if you were more in tune with the perceptions of your workers — and if you had a well thought out crisis management plan in place in advance?

These were among the issues discussed during a presentation entitled Keeping the Wolves at Bay: Employment Crisis Prevention and Management at the recent Quarles & Brady LLP Fifteenth Annual Labor & Employment Law Symposium in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

“A lot of people, when they think about crisis management, only think about crises when they are happening,” Jonathan Bernstein, president and CEO of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc. in Monrovia, California, said.

Bernstein added: “Very few crises are total surprises. Ninety-five percent of the crises to which I’ve responded could have been completely prevented, or greatly reduced.”

Both Bernstein and Attorney Ely Leichtling of Quarles & Brady’s Milwaukee office said that crises often occur when managers are out of tune with the perceptions of their workers.

“I continue to be surprised at how often senior management has such a disconnect from first line supervisors and employees,” Leichtling said.

Such poor internal communications, Bernstein added, can result in “critical information not making it to company decision-makers” and, ultimately, in what could have been an avoidable crisis. “Someone usually knows that trouble is brewing, usually sufficiently in advance to allow it to be headed off or, at least, damage minimized,” he says.

Vulnerability audits

Bernstein recommends that employers conduct comprehensive “vulnerability audits” to determine not only their compliance with employment laws but also to give them a “reality check” on what employees are thinking and how well employees truly understand company policies.

Such audits, which should include confidential interviews at all levels of the organization, should also involve both legal and “public relations” reviews of all existing employment policies, he says.

Among the questions to ask during a vulnerability audit, Bernstein said, are these:

  • “Do you think there is any discrimination or harassment in our organization?”
  • “Do our employees actually understand this particular policy?”
  • “If we (management) think they do, how do we know that?”
  • “Do our employee think that we ‘walk our talk’ regarding creating a friendly, versus hostile, environment?”

Bernstein gives these examples of issues that have been detected as a result of recent vulnerability audits and/or have been the cause of avoidable crises:

  • perceptions of racial and sexual harassment and discrimination
  • employees accused of wrongdoing (sometimes accurately, sometimes not) on and off the job
  • union actions and/or hostile attempts to unionize
  • blatant violations of customer confidentiality around the workplace and in public areas
  • damaging rumors — online and off-line