Effective crisis management requires a forward-thinking and systematic regime. It is almost impossible to predict when and where a future event will occur and so preparation is crucial.
It is essential that employers have flexible and workable procedures in place which enable potential risks to be identified at an early stage and can effectively manage an emergency situation.
1. The “pandemic” disaster: for example the outbreak of the Ebola virus or an act of terrorism. These have the ability to strike any organisation.
2. “Situational” risks: for example the severe flooding experienced in South-west Britain last year. Such risks are easily observable and quantifiable in nature.
3. “Core Crises”: for example food contamination in a restaurant chain. These will be specific to different organisations and employers will easily be able to identify which risks are relevant to their industry.
Inevitably there will always be risks which fall outside of the remit of these categories and it is these risks which become difficult to identify and prepare for. Often, crises can occur as a result of an accumulation of small issues which have been left unaddressed. Engaging with employees and adopting a risk aware working culture can enable employers to interpret early warning signals and take action to avoid any impending disaster.
Should an unavoidable crisis situation occur, it is essential that employers and employees alike know the protocol. In such circumstances, technology can prove to be a vital tool in keeping lines of communication open and aiding business continuity. Constructing a dormant website which is only activated in times of crises is an efficient way of disseminating important information to a workforce (whatever the size) and managing any media attention which the crisis may have attracted. Well constructed websites may also be able to anticipate any frequently asked questions posed by employees following a closure of the workplace or an outbreak of sickness. Nominating a crisis communications team will give employees a solid point of contact during the crisis and ensure that, where necessary, information which may be highly confidential is controlled and authorised by a single source.
In light of the ongoing overseas Ebola pandemic, it is likely that both employers and employees will have questions and concerns regarding sick pay and extended absences from work. A robust policy which maintains the relationship of mutual trust and confidence which co-exists in employment relationships and can be easily followed during difficult times is essential. Particular attention ought to be given to the following points:
• Where there is a genuine sickness, employees may be contractually and/or statutorily entitled to sick pay and therefore no further action is required.
• A procedure which allows sick employees to notify their employers of their absence and register their symptoms should be implemented so that any cause for concern can be quickly addressed and with the appropriate authorities, if required.
• Where an employee is away from work in order to care for a sick dependant it may be in the employer’s interest to take a flexible approach; suggesting that the employee take the time as paid holiday or unpaid leave.
• Depending on the nature of the employment, the employee may also be able to work remotely and/or make the time up at a later date.
• Where an employee is absent from the workplace because they fear becoming ill themselves, an employer should make every effort to keep lines of communication open, reassure employees who are nervous.
• However, if employees who are obliged to attend work remain absent the employer is under no obligation to pay and disciplinary action may be considered.
In any event it is clear that planning and implementing intelligible and robust crisis management and employee absence policies will allow employers to take a proactive approach in safeguarding their business interests and mitigating the effects of a crisis situation.
Find out more about how to deal with a crisis