Church Liability & Sexual Misconduct

Of all the liability issues that are facing the church in recent years this topic has become important for a number of reasons. First, in recent years sexual misconduct claims have been one of the most common forms of litigation involving churches.  Second, many of the largest settlements from these litigations involving churches are associated with this type of claim. What should the churches, the associations, and the state convention be doing to safeguard ourselves from this present danger? We need to be informed as leaders and then we need to take the appropriate steps to reduce this risk to our ministries.

Here are some important steps that we need to take:

Diligent Selection of Church Workers

In recent years, several churches have been sued as a result of inappropriate conduct by church workers.   Within these cases the victim has alleged either or both of these two items: 1) the church was negligent in hiring the offender without adequate screening or evaluation or 2) the church was negligent in its supervision of the offender (this person does not have to be a paid worker, it can be a volunteer worker).  Let’s understand the word negligence: it is any conduct that creates an unreasonable risk of foreseeable harm to others.

Negligent selection simply means that a church failed to act responsibly and with due care in the selection of workers that work with minors. How do we keep from committing negligence? Here are some suggestions: have a written application, check references (which should include some secondary references), do an interview, and make sure to do background checks. I would recommend a “Six Month Rule!” This recommendation simply means that no one can hold an office of any kind until that person has been a member of the church for at least 6 months. Most abusers will not want to wait that long!

Diligent Supervision Rules

There are a number of precautions that churches can take to reduce the risk of liability in regard to sexual conduct. Let me just talk about a couple:

  1. Adopt a “two adult” policy specifying that no minor is ever allowed to be alone with an adult during any church activity.
  2. Only release a minor from church activities to the parent or to a designee by that parent.   A church is responsible for a minor from the time it takes that minor from the parent or a designee until returned to that same individual.
  3. During large gatherings of minors make sure that the church has an adequate number of adults on hand. One of the largest problems stems from large activities with a very small number of adults.
  4. Placing cameras in strategic locations will always deter inappropriate activities. Yes, I know that cameras are an expense remedy.Litigation

Our biggest problem in churches is simply this phrase: “that would never happen in our church!” Well it does happen in churches just like ours and it could happen in yours. How do I know? Because without the above mentioned “Six Month Rule” it could have easily happened in one of my churches, but the person decided that he could not wait and went to another church and it was found that he was a predator. Be diligent in the two areas above and you will find yourselves protected to a large degree.

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