I was talking to a consultant friend of mine the other day about HR risks within law firms, and it is clear that many firms still don’t consider the risks their people could pose to their businesses, especially outside of normal working hours.
All of the SRA Principles touch on human behaviour in one way or another and firms need to take account of this when developing their policies and procedures.
Principle 2 states that all regulated persons should “act with integrity”, and Principle 6 states that they should “behave in a way that maintains the trust the public places in them and in the provision of legal services”. Many firms and their people seem to hold the view that the Principles and rules only apply to solicitors, and are only applicable during working hours, however they apply to everyone within a firm, at all times.
So where could your firm be exposed to people risks outside of normal working hours?
- Comments made on social media
- Behaviour at social events
- Driving offences leading to convictions
- Engaging in improper relationships with clients
- Engaging in extreme political activities
- Criminal activity
There have been numerous recent examples of people from varying walks of life making comments via social media sites and then living to regret it, so you and your staff need to take note. Such behaviour could impact on your firm, especially if the individual concerned has named your firm in their profile.
Not only could your firm lose a valuable member of staff due to dismissal but you could also suffer from irreparable reputational damage due to the firm’s linkage with the individual concerned; how would you cope if your firm was linked with extremist or discriminatory views? With potentially plenty of time on their hands over the festive period many of your employees are likely to be engaging in social media activities, but what risks could such activities pose for your firm; is now an appropriate time to remind them about their obligations under your social media and internet policies?
Many of you will be getting ready for your office Christmas parties, but how many of you will be telling your staff to act responsibly, and reminding them that as the event is an extension of the workplace they will need to act accordingly?
Over the years many employment lawyers have been criticised for pointing out the risks associated with office parties, with some being called “party poopers”, “scrooges”, etc., but this is the first Christmas where COLPs will have to take responsibility for such risks, and they need to mitigate these risks as much as they can; better to be called a “scrooge”, than come in on the Monday after the party and find they have to deal with a member of staff who has been arrested for drunken behaviour and have no defence when asked, “what did you do before the event to minimise the risks of this type of thing happening?
Another risk at this time of year is that of drink-driving; how would you cope if a high profile partner was arrested after a client event and banned from driving for six months, or longer?
Firms take years to build up their reputations but it only takes a moment of madness for these to be destroyed or badly damaged, so COLPs need to seriously consider the consequences that the actions of their “people assets” could have on all concerned; even if it is outside working hours.