Skip to content

See Something, Say Something

My week at the International Bar Association conference in Washington began with a speech by the Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. He urged all of us who attended, in light of recent events in New York and New Jersey, if we see something suspicious, to say something. Many of you manage assets that are of particular importance to the security of the United States. If you haven’t done so recently, now might be a good time to remind employees of this simple principle.

While the reminder itself is important, it should also be accompanied by some specific instructions. Employees need to understand that they should report suspicions of potential attacks—whether physical or cyber—in the workplace. But they should also understand that this imperative is not an invitation to profile fellow employees. An employee with a prayer rug is not cause for a report.

The importance of providing clear instructions is also in the way those instructions build trust among employees, as well as the way they build employee trust in your company’s human relations and security departments, because time will often be of the essence in these scenarios. I recently learned of a situation where employees had requested the home address of a fellow employee from HR. Only after the HR manager refused and asked why they needed the information did the employees reveal that this particular employee had sent a disturbing message by social media. Luckily, the HR manager acted quickly and called the proper local officials, who subsequently prevented a bad outcome. Communications like this with HR should not be a matter of luck, but should be encouraged by employers.

Present events give you a good opportunity to discuss with employees the importance of trusting management in reporting such issues, to do so when suspicious behavior is seen, and to avoid improperly profiling fellow employees. This is an important message for employers and needs to be communicated carefully.

This information is provided by Vinson & Elkins LLP for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended, nor should it be construed, as legal advice.