Every month or so, there seems to be a new story of some high profile politician and some version of a sex scandal. It should come as no surprise that there is likely a sexual harassment scandal of the likes of Herman Cain in your company. Whether the allegations against Herman Cain are substantiated or not, is not the purpose of this article. I take no position on Mr. Cain’s alleged dalliances or his political affiliation. However, one thing cannot be denied – the damage to his reputation and brand. In fact, today, he announced he was “reassessing” his campaign following claims he had a 13-year extramarital affair with a single mother from Georgia.
Much like a personal brand of a politician, similar scandals and accusations against employees and corporate officers can damage your company’s brand.
Employers should beware and be prepared for the influx of negative publicity – particularly in a time of social media when stories break every second.
It isn’t just the allegations, but the response that can cause increased negative perception among the public (i.e. your company’s consumers). For instance, Herman Cain’s response to the multiple allegations may not have been ideal. He strongly denied the charges, but also lashed out at, blaming the victims and claiming he was a victim of smear campaign orchestrated by unnamed people in the “Democrat machine,” and the almighty “press”. But, it didn’t stop there – his attorney also ominously warning other women who may have been victims to “think carefully” before they came forward.
Tips for Employers:
1. Think of Others. For an executive and an employer, when dealing with personal workplace sexual harassment allegations, keep the perceptions and interests of employees, colleagues, customers or clients and other stakeholders in mind before publicly responding to the situation.
2. Consult with Counsel and/or Corporate PR Rep. Employers should promptly provide competent legal assistance to an executive in this position includes understanding how a response will be perceived in the court of public opinion. This is essential not only to the executive’s reputation, but to the executive’s and the employer’s legal defense.
3. Respectful Denial. A firm denial and condemnation of inappropriate behavior is a reasonable response; however, a corporate executive involved in allegations of sexual harassment, should communicate respect for the process, even if he or she strongly denies the accusations. Reactive, angry denials and threats of retaliation can be disastrous – not only for the executive, but, for the employer.