How should HR handle crises?

A call-centre supervisor is fired for not calling 911. What should the HR department do now? A communications expert outlines next-steps

A Montreal call centre supervisor has been fired because he failed to call police after discovering an injured, unconscious 17-year-old girl outside the company’s offices. He also forbade his workers to call 911.

The girl was lying in the rain, naked from the waist down, and when she moved her arms she appeared to be in pain. The supervisor said he thought the girl was just “out of it” because he didn’t see any blood. He told workers he didn't want the company to get involved.

The girl lay for nearly three hours before an employee used his cellular phone to call police.

Sitel Canada fired the supervisor after an internal investigation; they will likely not discipline any other employees. The name of the former supervisor has not been released.

The company has outraged many Montrealers, who have vented their anger through graffiti on the company’s building and parking lot.

The girl, who has been identified by her family, remains in hospital, in a coma and with severe head injuries.

What should HR do now?

We asked communications consultant Marnie Smith, of Nextera Sibson Consulting Group, what steps the HR department should take now to mitigate the negative fallout from this situation.

She says the company needs to take a hard look at itself to figure out why the supervisor made the decision to not get involved.

“What they need to do is fix the problem internally. That should be HR’s focus,” said Smith. “Then later, they could communicate what they’ve done to fix the problem. They need to look internally and see what the problem is.”

The company should likely also do some sensitivity training, says Smith. “Obviously the individual didn’t understand the importance of the issue at the time, and his role in influencing other people’s behaviour or his role as the supervisor to make informed, educated decisions.”

“They should also do something on empowerment,” she says. “Even in the military you’re taught do what you’re told – as long as it doesn’t cross the level of morality.”

Smith says that, although companies can't plan for every eventuality, it’s important to have policies in place so people know what the boundaries are about getting involved.

“(The policy) could say that if you see someone in trouble, you should call 911. Make it a corporate policy that a supervisor can’t override.”

After the internal problems have been looked after, the HR department could play a role in publicizing any policies it puts in place to prevent something like this from ever happening again.

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