Have you ever experienced negligent, unfair, or simply shoddy treatment by a business? If so, you'll know what a difference it can make to receive a full and frank apology – and conversely, how frustrating it can be when no expression of regret or remorse is forthcoming. Too often, businesses fear the repercussions of saying sorry, believing that it admits fault and exposes them to legal action.
Now, a campaign called The Apology Clause is petitioning to make it easier for companies to say sorry when things go wrong. We spoke to its founders, communications and crisis management experts Guy Corbet, Sue Stapely (a solicitor) and Nick Wright, to find out more.
What is the Apology Clause?
The Apology Clause is a campaign to help make it easier for businesses to behave with compassion when things go wrong, and to help victims have better recoveries.
Too often businesses don’t apologise when they believe they should, because they put their fear of legal retribution over doing the right thing.
But that needn’t be the case. The law says, in the Compensation Act 2006 that, 'an apology, an offer of treatment or other redress, shall not itself amount to an admission of negligence or breach of statutory duty'.
In other words, it is alright to say sorry.
Why did you decide to set up the campaign?
We set the campaign up to raise awareness of this little-known, and little-used law.
We would also like new legislation, or increased use of case law, to clarify the precise meaning of the existing law, which is not always clear.
Too often, in our professional lives as communications advisors, we have seen firms wanting to do the right thing, but being advised against it. It seems absurd that the law should stop people behaving well.
Why does it matter whether or not companies apologise?
Very often they can see that their reputations will suffer if they do not, and they would like to. The bad publicity it attracts can be devastating.
Not apologising can also harm victims and others who have suffered. Apologies help people get over trauma. Their absence can prevent it. In some cases, that can harm the rest of their lives.
Why are so many companies reluctant to say sorry?
Very often they are ready to say sorry, but their professional advisors, whether lawyers or insurers advise them against it. They fear that if they apologise it will open them up to legal action. Although they know it looks bad, they keep their heads down and say nothing.
What is the impact of an apology on a victim?
Sometimes an apology can make all the difference. Think about the number of times you hear the expression 'all I wanted was an apology'.
Often when terrible things have happened the people who have suffered feel that they are responsible. This can weigh heavily on them, perhaps freezing them in the moment of their deepest trauma. An apology can show they weren’t to blame and help them move on.
You say that you want companies to apologise when things go wrong, without it being seen as an admission of negligence, but doesn’t an apology imply responsibility, and therefore negligence if something has gone wrong?
Well that’s what the campaign is about. The law says an apology is “not an admission of negligence”. Very often an apology is the right thing to do, without admitting fault. Think about how often you apologise when someone bumps into you.
It’s a civil way of moving beyond the incident and very often looking at how to avoid such things happen again.
We are wary of non-apologies, when people say sorry without really meaning it, and hollow ones, where they do nothing to prevent an accident happening again.
And, of course, a meaningful apology does not absolve the organisation from legitimate legal consequences. For example, where health and safety laws have been breached.
Most importantly, apologies help victims recover and move on with their lives.
How can I find out more?
Visit apologyclause.com to find out more, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or show your support by signing the petition at www.change.org/p/secretary-of-state-for-justice-clarify-the-apology-clause
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