Although the company had always provided basic pay at or above the national minimum wage, in some cases it had also been taking payroll deductions for providing transport to work, which brought workers below this level.

At the end of a three-year investigation, HMRC decided that, while it’s fair in principle for workers to pay for transport, the payroll deductions infringed the technicalities of minimum wage rules. It ordered the company to reimburse a thousand workers and pay a hefty fine, leaving it with a bill of nearly £300,000.

With a previously-unblemished 20-year track record, the company rightly recognised it was of paramount importance to protect its reputation from any suspicion of deliberate misdealings.

It appointed us to provide crisis communications advice to ensure it would be ready to tell its side of the story if the issue came to public attention – a significant threat, as HMRC periodically ‘names and shames’ firms it finds in breach of minimum wage rules.

What we did

We sat down with the directors to look in detail at the situation and provided advice on the best underlying message on which to base communications.

We drafted statements explaining what happened, and a ‘Hostile Q&A’ to ensure the company’s directors and managers were fully prepared to answer tough questions if they arose.

We helped the firm explain to its workers why it was reimbursing them for past deductions. And we made sure we were ready to support the company further if HMRC published details of the case or it gained attention through any other means.

In all of the communications, we emphasised that the firm has always paid its workers fairly, that its breach was an accidental technicality, and that — despite an extremely harsh HMRC ruling — it immediately put matters right.

The results

The crisis communications work gave the directors the reassurance that they’re fully prepared to defend the company’s reputation if the saga of the HMRC audit were to come to light. They went from a feeling of anxiety and vulnerability to a sense of having taken control of the situation.

The company’s Managing Director told us:

“Your guidance has been absolutely excellent — thank you. You’ve given us the confidence and tools to tackle any hostility in a consistent and professional manner and we’ll have no hesitation in recommending your services.”


See more on our crisis communications services and let us know if we can help you with any difficult situations.

Image courtesy of One Click Group