· 2 min read · Features

What to do during a FIFA-style scandal

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If your business is plunged into a scandal, here's what you need to do

The football world has been turned upside down by the revelations and scandals coming from FIFA; the criminal investigations have left a huge scar that may never heal.

Any organisation can plummet into chaos when criminal investigations are initiated against an employee as a result of an offence committed through the course of work. HR departments often find themselves at the centre of a storm and unsure of how to handle the situation.

If you find yourself in a FIFA situation here are some key steps to take.

Preserve evidence and defuse the situation

In the first instance, it is vital that you defuse the situation as quickly as possible and take a step back from the politics that run alongside it. In cases involving allegations of financial impropriety or bribery, vital evidence that needs to be protected may be present. Therefore it is often best to remove the employee from the situation immediately via suspension on full pay.

Communications strategy

In high profile cases there is the threat of exposure in both traditional and social media, presenting a risk to the organisation’s reputation and also a risk of jeopardising the internal and external investigations.

Involving your communications team from day one will create a clear point of contact for media enquiries to which all employees can direct questions. More importantly, it means minimising the risk of any spokesperson saying something that could prejudice the internal and criminal investigations.

Reasonable doubt vs. reasonable belief

There is a clear difference between internal HR investigations and criminal investigations.

The employer’s decision is best viewed as a management decision and not a verdict on criminal culpability. For a management decision to be deemed fair it needs to be based on reasonable grounds and following reasonable investigation allied with a fair process being followed, so there is a significantly lower burden of proof than in criminal investigations.

Stand by your principles and values

Occasions such as this test integrity and define what you stand for. Allowing commercial decisions to dominate the strategy for dealing with such issues can compromise the culture and values of an organisation.

Above all, the biggest mistake that employers make is in delaying the internal investigation and allowing a criminal investigation to take precedence.

The risk with FIFA is that it may defer to the investigatory process of the law enforcement agencies, which will be protracted. FIFA has an opportunity to conduct an inquiry with a less stringent burden of proof, make its decisions, and move on, and therefore expedite a return to organisational health and reputation that may otherwise be some years away.

Organisations need to recognise the value in clear, confident and timely decision-making that is within their own control and not external agencies'.

If you take one piece of advice from this, let it be this: get on with it and do it without delay.

Darren Maw is managing director of HR and employment law firm Vista