Politics and business. Not necessarily a recommended mix, but in today's charged political climate it is a more frequent one and one that companies cannot always ignore. We've talked about what to do as General Counsel (GC) if a member of your executive decides to take a political stance. So, let's talk about what to do in the midst of a topical political issue: don’t run away, turn and face the issue - thoughtfully.
Sometimes it is simply too risky for a business to take a public political stance on a topical situation, be it a war or endorsing a political party or candidate. Why? Because businesses are an intricate ecosystem of shareholders, suppliers, customers, employees, production lines and communities.
In a capitalist system, losing or upsetting a stakeholder can cause a domino effect that can cripple a company. GCs know this, so when assessing if their company or CEO should make a political statement, or take action publicly, they must carefully weigh up the risks to each stakeholder.
In some circumstances the decision is easy - No, don't do it - being political is too big a risk to the business. But what to do if you still care about an issue and, most importantly, want to support the values of your employees?
Adam Wardel, GC at Simplus, offers this advice. "Focus on your people. If you have people or their families being personally impacted by a political situation, ask yourself what you can do as a company to support them. As a corporation, we can't change a crisis, but we can have an impact on the way our employees can be involved and supported."
Wardel believes this is the message you should lead with when discussing the crisis with your people.
As an example, what should you do if an employee's family is impacted by a conflict or you have people working in a conflict zone? A solution could be to provide them with paid time off work to help their community and then concurrently make a statement in support of the people, as opposed to one side or the other of the issue.
He also says, "It is important for employers to provide mental health coverage for employees. At no time more than now has that been needed."
Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) can serve the emotional and mental needs of employees and providing further wellness benefits or packages won't go amiss, especially during times of duress.
Your legal team may need to provide some direction if you have employees who are very publicly involved in a political situation that, as a company, you are steering clear of. Wardel says "knowing where the legal line we can't cross is" is a warm and fuzzy blanket that helps lawyers go to bed at night.
In-house lawyers have fiduciary duties to both their organization and their organization's people, and Wardel stresses the importance of ensuring employees are aware that any actions they do outside of work are done as private citizens. "No one individual should speak for the company as a whole, and in many instances, we need to maintain a certain level of distance.”