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Preparing for the other side of lockdown

Much will change in the new normal, and four areas are emerging as key to avoiding harm to the reputation on the other side. Planning for them now will reduce the risk of harm later.

Share carefully

It is pretty obvious that now is not the time for ostentatious displays or publicly lamenting circumstances that may not draw enormous popular sympathy. Likewise it is a good time to repeat executive education programmes to ensure that existing policies on conduct, particularly online, are followed when other outlets for communication are restricted.

There is obviously a tension between ordinary good online practices, a desire to keep in touch with others and sheer tedium. If in any doubt review privacy settings and keep content to closed groups.

Be mindful of emerging public interest

Privacy and confidentiality rights at law are not absolute, and one of the main checks against them is the concept of the public interest. Owners and managers of businesses should be particularly alive to the risk that accepting state support – for example through the UK Government’s employment furlough scheme, or becoming suppliers to the state – will inevitably lead to arguments being made that it generates public interest in topics like future earnings and use of wealth by the owners and directors of businesses.

While the economic calculations are likely inevitable, give thought to the implications for future business planning and risk management. In particular, expect additional scrutiny of remuneration, lifestyle and tax practices come the end of the financial year.

Look out for phishing, fraud and blackmail risk

A captive audience spending more time on screens is good news for fraudsters. Criminology shows the connection between economic stress and increases in criminal behaviour, and with most countries locked down in their homes and a focus on keeping people off the streets it is likely this will focus on online criminality rather than usual surges like burglary.

Even before the outbreak we saw a rise in attempted blackmail against corporations, and since its start the number of online scams targeted at the prominent has surged. These are typically emails which appear at first glance to be from social media platforms, banks or utility providers, but direct you to submit your password or bank details to fraudulent websites which will misappropriate your information for the personal gain of the imposters behind the scam.

Before entering your information, check the email addresses and URLs put before you to ensure they are legitimately from the companies they purport to be from.

Some attacks will be targeted and sophisticated. Be watchful for small indicators like changes to normal cycles for payments and renewals. Sophisticated extortion based on stolen confidential information or blackmail threats can be defended against. The criminal justice system and the civil courts recognise the vital public interest in protecting blackmail victims by on the one hand assiduously investigating and halting perpetrators, and on the other using civil justice mechanisms to prevent the execution of a blackmail threat – including the fact that the victim is being blackmailed, as well as details of information threatened to be circulated. Where prevention is not possible, responding appropriately radically reduces the risk of harm.

Handle disputes with care

All businesses are feeling pain somewhere in the economic chain, which makes disputes inevitable. Handling these badly can cause outsize damage to reputation.

Just as profiteers in wartime find themselves pariahs in the aftermath, so too there is risk that those who use the law to protect their own interests while wreaking significant damage to others will risk lasting harm to their own reputation. It is not hard to imagine a commercial landlord obtaining mortgage relief from their lender, but insisting on payment in full from struggling business tenants, effectively maximising profit and putting smaller businesses under.

While directors of companies have a duty to protect their own entity and its financial wellbeing, their long term duties to enhance the business should not be forgotten and may not be served by short term acts. Litigation creates permanent records and a long term view to litigation strategy will be vital.