What to do when your boss is under ASIC investigation

by Victoria Bruce01 Mar 2016
HR professionals are no stranger to workplace investigations - in fact they are usually the people in charge of these proceedings.

But when your boss or a company director is under the spotlight of an ASIC investigation, HR professionals should also consider commencing an internal investigation into the workings of their organization, says Andrew Jewell, principal lawyer with McDonald Murholme.

 “If a manager of an organisation is under investigation from ASIC it may be prudent to conduct an internal investigation regarding the same subject matter,” Jewell told HC Online.

While the decision to commence an internal investigation will be one for the company’s management, HR professionals may have a key role to play as investigator, Jewell says.

“In doing so the HR employees must work closely with Communications Managers – especially those with high conflict dispute resolution skills,” he says.

With the business’s leadership under question, HR will need to step up and do their part to ensure the company’s smooth sailing through these uncertain waters, especially if heads do roll.

“Do not assume that the ASIC investigation is to be quickly finalised and then business as usual,” Jewell warns.

Jewell says HR professionals should take steps to understand how ASIC investigations proceed to best prepare themselves and ensure any investigation will run as smoothly, and with as little disruption to the business as possible.

ASIC’s role as the corporate regulator is to monitor, investigate, prosecute and stamp out dubious market behaviour and white collar crime.

While company directors are responsible for managing the financial affairs of their companies, many fall foul of the law and face significant consequences, including being disqualified from managing a corporation for up to five years.

The decision to support a leader who is personally under ASIC investigation will be up to the management of the organisation, as that individual may have engaged in damaging conduct, he says.

“However if that decision is made, assistance can be provided in the form of assistance with the ASIC investigation, career advice or personal support in the way of leave,” Jewell says.

And when a company leader is removed, HR needs to address the issue and manage the situation within the workplace to maintain employee morale and productivity, Jewell says. 

“The absence cannot be ignored,” Jewell says.

He says the effect on the workplace should be acknowledged and changes to structure should be announced to avoid uncertainty, which may include updating titles or appointing employees to acting roles.

HR professionals may also need to call upon outside support to ensure their company remains on target.

Jewell advises HR professionals to step up and swiftly make any required organisational changes which meet the challenges created by an ongoing ASIC investigation.

“External help is often the best way of keeping a ‘steady as she goes’ approach to ongoing business,” Jewell says.

Morale is best upheld by those employees who are the most confident that they know the business and have coped with earlier challenges.

He says open communication with all stakeholders and ensuring employees are kept informed on the company’s progress and direction also helps maintain morale.

“Established businesses will usually have some experienced employees who will want to stay on and step up to the challenges,” Jewell says.

“They need to be encouraged to do so and ASIC may be impressed by what they can do.”
 

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