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How organisations can deal with reputational risks

By Jack Campbell | |5 minute read
How organisations can deal with reputational risks

Within any business, issues with harassment, discrimination and bullying can lead to damage of reputation, not only for the individuals involved, but also the organisation as a whole.

Legal director of Sydney Legal Consulting, Trish Ryan, discussed the issue on The HR Leader and noted that this damage can occur at any level of the business.

“Any issue that comes forward has the potential to have some element of reputational risk. It needs to be managed sensitively, regardless of who they are or what level the employee may be at,” Ms Ryan said.


Recognising the issues early on and implementing solutions in a timely manner are key to keeping the problem from spiralling out of control.

“It’s about setting up the process upfront, so working out who needs to know, who needs to be involved, briefing the people who need to know but only on an ‘as needs basis’. Not looping [in] every person in the organisation,” she said.

“Engage appropriate assistance early on, whether that’s internal or external to guide [you] through the process.”

Keeping the resolution process internal has the potential for a conflict of interest. Making sure there is no history of friendship or relationship with someone involved will tackle any bias in the procedure.

“Take a step back, look at it objectively and work out who are the key players? Who needs to know what? How are we going to manage this? And setting up the scope upfront as well. What are we looking into? Who's going to be the person who offers support to the complainer? Do we have an employee assistance program? What confidentiality are we going to have in place?” explained Ms Ryan.

Some businesses may also run the risk of outside media becoming involved. In these situations, employers should consider engaging their communications team, or even an external PR company.

“I think it’s really important to engage people who need to know early so that they can advise to minimise the risk,” Ms Ryan said.

Confidentiality is key to allowing the process to play out in an appropriate manner and avoid any potential defamation claims.

“They cannot talk to anyone else involved in the matter about the matter because otherwise, the process is compromised and they want to know that the process is done well. Definitely, it’s about setting up the framework upfront before delving into the nitty-gritty to try and protect your reputation,” explained Ms Ryan.

“We have innocent until proven guilty and these sort of matters — we aren't talking about the criminal burden of proof, we're talking about ‘on the balance of probability’ is it more likely or not that they did it? Even if you suspect that yes, they probably did engage in that conduct, they're still entitled to a level of procedural fairness and you have a duty to protect them as well.”

The transcript of this podcast episode, when quoted above, was slightly edited for publishing purposes. The full conversation with Trish Ryan is below.



According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, discrimination occurs when one individual or group of people is regarded less favourably than another because of their origins or certain personality traits. When a regulation or policy is unfairly applied to everyone yet disadvantages some persons due to a shared personal trait, that is also discrimination.


Harassment is defined as persistent behaviour or acts that intimidate, threaten, or uncomfortably affect other employees at work. Because of anti-discrimination laws and the Fair Work Act of 2009, harassment in Australia is prohibited on the basis of protected characteristics.

Jack Campbell

Jack Campbell

Jack is the editor at HR Leader.