Crisis comms – who’s on your team?

Managing the wolf at the door

by Kate Oliver, Solicitor at Gateley Plc

As business owners and senior managers, we can all appreciate the fear of a regulator’s letter arriving through the post or, even worse, having that knock at the door.

Whether it is the Environment Agency alleging you have polluted a local river, the Fire Service saying your procedures aren’t up to scratch or the Health & Safety Executive inviting you to an interview under caution following an accident in the workplace, how you go on to deal with the issue can have a major impact on the eventual outcome.

The first contact with the regulator is vitally important: not only does it set the tone of communications to follow but it is also the first strategic stage of managing the investigation. Understanding the powers of the regulator and the requests they may make for documents or information, as well as requests to interview staff, is crucially important, as is managing the process to make it as stress free as possible.

Legal representation at this early stage means that the burden and stress of communication with the regulator can be passed on. Communicating with the regulator throughout the process builds the relationship and gives the regulator confidence that their investigation is progressing.

Each regulatory authority differs in their approach but the common thread between them all is that the regulator’s need to assess whether prosecution can be justified and is appropriate or whether there is scope for an alternative solution will be behind their questioning.

Having a strategy to tackle any issues that may emerge during the investigation and being able to offer solutions not only fulfils your regulatory obligations but can often reduce the risk of prosecution.

Regulators are usually obliged to investigate when a complaint is made or when certain criteria are met. This is the first stage of the investigatory process. The next step is usually an invitation to attend an interview under caution. Making sure you understand the framework and process of that investigation, appointing legal counsel and making sure you get your communications right – within the restrictions of that framework – are all essential to ensure you achieve the best possible outcome.

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