Stop spreading the news
Whether it is allegations of sexual assault or harassment, fraud, or other serious or criminal impropriety, the steps that high profile senior executives and other people in the public eye take in the first few hours and days following such allegations, can have a major influence on the outcome of the matter and on their ability to recover and move on with their life, career and reputation afterwards.
A 12 step plan
For anyone facing potentially damaging allegations against them, here are some of those key steps which you should consider to help you through this ordeal.
1 If the allegations involve potential criminal offences or serious FSA or other regulatory breaches, get criminal and appropriate FSA/regulatory advice immediately. Also take employment law and (if the allegations are untrue) defamation law advice quickly too. Ensure your lawyers communicate to give a joined up approach to your response to the allegations which takes account of protecting your position from all those perspectives.
2 Get PR advice at the outset to assist with appropriate positioning of your response if the allegations are about to go public and be proactive rather than reactive in your handing of potential press coverage, as this can have a massive impact on how or indeed whether the allegations are reported.
3 Consider counselling or therapy or at least GP support, as what you are about to go through is likely to be incredibly traumatic and the more support you can have at an early stage the more likely you are to make sensible, rational decisions on your situation.
4 Get hold of copies of your employer’s or organisation’s internal disciplinary and grievance procedures so you understand the process that should be followed in relation to the allegations against you.
5 Prepare a detailed statement in response to those allegations to submit in any such internal proceedings and to help you focus on the detail of the issues at the outset as accurately and fully as possible. You may find preparing such a statement therapeutic and reassuring.
6 Get third parties who can corroborate your version of events to prepare their own signed statements in support and to agree you can use these to defend yourself.
7 Consider and compile any hard evidence there may be to support your version of events and consider access routes to any supporting information and documents held by your employer or third parties – for example (but not limited to) through a Subject Access Request under the Data Protection Act, any right to access information under, for example, a partnership or LLP agreement and rights under disciplinary procedures and general employment law to receive information and documents about the allegations being made against you. Be careful though when collating such information and evidence not to breach any confidentiality obligations you may owe to your employer or any third party.
8 Do not discuss the allegations with unconnected third parties (apart from your advisers) and maintain strictest confidentiality. You need to consider this carefully when deciding whether and how to involve the PR agent if the matter is about to hit the press.
9 Are there any other colleagues involved who are facing similar allegations and are they being treated consistently with you? If not, is the reason for the difference in treatment on the ground of any protected characteristic such as age, race, sex, sexual orientation, disability, or religion or belief, or perhaps because you may have blown the whistle on wrongdoing within the organisation? And how have similar allegations been dealt with in the past, if any – again, is there a consistency with your treatment? If not you may have specific statutory protections on which you can rely to try to improve your legal and negotiating position.
10 If the allegations are in fact true in full or part, then (subject in criminal cases and regulatory matters to appropriate legal advice) apologise unreservedly for what you have done, explain any mitigating circumstances, get character witnesses to support you, emphasise your unblemished career and all the good and positive things you have done to help the organisation and beyond. Identify with your employer ways in which you can learn from these events in a way which might help you remain within and be valuable to the organisation – with mentoring and coaching, specific training and appropriate supervision. And if it’s not feasible for you to remain in your current role, consider whether there is any possible alternative role for you to enable you to remain employed for the time being, even if it may amount to a demotion.
11 Sometimes the evidence (or just the smoke and furore around the allegations) is such that an immediate dignified resignation on agreed terms with confidentiality provisions etc. is in reality the only viable option. Coming to this realisation quickly can save a great deal of pain, extended bad publicity and expense. It will then be a question of trying to do the quickest, most favourable and confidential exit deal as circumstances permit. Be aware though that regulatory and legal obligations as well as appropriate whistle-blower sensitivities, mean that you can never completely rely on confidentiality clauses but including them may at least reduce somewhat the likelihood of the allegations coming out and damaging your career and life further.
12 Keep in mind that you may not be the only potential victim in this – regardless of whether or not you agree with the allegations made against you, if they have been made in good faith your accuser may well be suffering far more than you and you should take this into account in considering how to respond to the allegations. And never try to contact your accuser to discuss the allegations without having that person’s and your employer’s clear prior agreement (which will rarely be given): you will almost certainly make matters worse for both that other person and yourself if you do.
Keep your family in the loop
Finally it is important to involve your family early so you know they will stand behind you and support you, regardless of the allegations against you. The impact will be far worse if you to try to hide it from your spouse or partner and have to involve them at a later stage if things are no longer containable. This is without doubt one of the most traumatic events you may ever face in your career and possibly your life, but however bad it may seem to you, rarely are such situations so serious that they cannot be managed and in time overcome.