For in-house counsel, implementing workplace protocols to mitigate the next local, national, or international crisis has been increasingly top-of-mind. As such, the 2017 ACC Mid-Year Meeting session entitled “Expecting the Unexpected: Duty of Care and Workplace Risks for Multinational Organizations,” served as an essential learning experience — providing tangible skills for how to prepare for the unthinkable and how to respond once the unthinkable has already happened.
Here are some key takeaways:
- In-house counsel should practice for crisis situations so that if or when it happens, human error doesn’t make it worse. Things can change rapidly. It may be OK today, but you should plan to reassess regularly to ensure that you have a well-planned procedure.
- The US Department of Homeland Security, OSHA, and FEMA, among others, have emergency action plan templates available on their websites so that you can customize a plan for your company. Be sure to institute various protocols and resources to assist employees when traveling internationally.
- When planning emergency resources, it is essential to consider risk management and assessment (i.e., identify threats), security management, and staff communications technology.
However, prior to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, in-house counsel rarely incorporated the possibility of crises into workplace protocols. According to World Trade Center (WTC) results on the Emergency Preparedness Safety Climate, prior to Sept. 11, 94 percent of respondents noted that they had never exited their place of employment as part of a drill. Eighty-four percent reported that they had no plan in place regarding where to gather after evacuating, and similarly had no plan for performing a headcount. In drafting a crisis-preparedness plan, the most common mistakes that in-house counsel can make include:
- Lack of adequate staff training;
- Poor communications;
- Failure to account for the number of different scenarios that may trigger workplace violence;
- No back-up communications;
- No system in place to account for employees; and,
- No plan in place for visitors, temporary employees, and persons with disabilities.
Returning to the package scenario, for example, the panel asserted that the first step would be to notify law enforcement, cover the package, and begin looking for any writing from the sender. Next, in-house counsel should make checklist or response plan, with consideration of any applicable workplace protocols. For example, if the package is giving off an odor, in-house counsel should control the HVAC to minimize the spread of any chemicals or toxins. Finally, take a picture of the package and send it to employees outside of the organization to limit exposure.
You may still be thinking: “Ok, so what now?” In looking to the future, in-house counsel can better prepare for the unexpected by creating a thorough and comprehensive preparedness plan. Use traveler-tracking tools to ensure that employees on business internationally are accounted for. Train new employees about crisis prevention as part of the onboarding processes. During day-to-day operations, promote accountability and encourage detailed documentation and auditing practices.