A company was fined a heavy penalty the other day for a a workplace accident that was caused by the company managers condoning illegal actions, because that is the "way we have always done it in the

In this case an unlicensed driver of a forklift caused an accident.

The company decided to plead guilty being negligent in terms of the Occupational Health & Safety Act, expecting a thousand rand (ZAR) fine, but thecourt decided a fine of R10000 would be more appropriate. The judge's words: " Do not think you can just come in here and walk away with a small fine and continue the practice. This fine will help you to take Health and Safety issues seriously".

What if the accident resulted in a death and the company had no proper safety practices in place? According to the law the CEO could then be held negligent, and he could receive a sentence of two years in jail and a fine of R100000. With that the media would have a field day!Luckily in this case, no media reporter picked up the case, so the damages were confined to R 10000, but what if they did?

Organizations have two kinds of visibility to deal with: The first is planned visibility, which is caused by day-to-day operations and actions by your organization.The second is unplanned visibility, which is caused by the vulnerabilities you face due to the very nature of your business.These threats are caused by employees, environmental threats, safety issues and government intervention due to a company's noncompliance to a changing legal environment, and unplanned visibility often does more harm, because of its editorial value.

In this case the company caused problems for itself by not taking the law seriously. In South Africa laws are changing "thick and fast". Keeping up with all the new legal developments is difficult. Maintaining compliance is even more challenging.

Fortunately, employers can take practical, proactive steps to maintain compliance and reduce liability risks.

Here's a list of some of the steps you can take:
  • Take appropriate measures to ensure that you receive timely notice of new legal developments, and that someone be instructed to evaluate its potential impact. Often in companies this is the job of the company secretary to evaluate the potential impact of for instance internet legislation and the HR department to evaluate Employee Equity legislation on company policies.
  • Take note of internal developments and their impact on the company's legal obligations. Re-engineering efforts, and business expansions can have an impact on employee legislative matters.
  • Conduct periodic reviews, especially of employment policies, practices and procedures. Do it on a regular basis.
The old latin maxim : " Ignorance of the law is no excuse" applies here.What is often ignored though is the reputational impact of business decisions taken. Taking a minimum legal compliance approach in your business may not be enough to avoid potential litigation and the ensuing publicity that could accompany it.

Noncompliance with changing laws can damage your reputation. How compliant are you? When last have your company conducted a reputational audit?

A Reputational audit is a systematic way of approach toidentifying issues that currently affect your company or will affect it within the next 12 to 36 months. (Like it or not, your company's policies and actions are shaped and developed in anticipation of, and reaction to,political, economic, legal, social and technological forces).

It is also a process of casting a look internally and examining processes, procedures, policies and issues that could impact and damage the company's reputation. It involves an in depth look at the quality of management, financial soundness, use of corporate assets, community and environmental responsibility, quality of products or services, value as a long term investment, innovativeness, and the ability to attract, develop and keep talented people, etc.
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