The #MeToo movement is all over the news, and it is changing our society in a myriad ways. Allegations of sexual misconduct may not only result in criminal charges, but they can also give rise to causes of action under civil law.
If you are an employer, a teacher, or a government official, you need to understand how inappropriate behavior or statements by you or people you supervise can result in big legal problems for you and your organization.
Here are five important points you need to know to protect your business and reputation from claims of sexual misconduct under civil law.
1. There Doesn’t Need to Be Touching
Unwanted physical contact can result in charges brought under both criminal and civil law. But there does not need to any actual touching for someone to file a civil lawsuit for sexual misconduct.
You do not even have to be the person who actually engaged in the inappropriate behavior to be exposed to civil liability.
If you employ someone who makes suggestive comments at work and you fail to stop them, you may be subject to civil litigation. If you are a principal or a school board member and a teacher at your school is dating an underage student, you may be liable as well.
2. Allowing Misconduct Can Make You Culpable
The laws governing sexual harassment cover not only people who engage in misdeeds but supervisors who allow this conduct to take place.
If someone can plausibly claim that you knew about illegal actions and did not do anything to stop it, you may be named in a civil lawsuit for sexual harassment. For example, if you received complaints against an employee for sexual misconduct and you did not discipline him, you may be held responsible.
If someone succeeds in a civil case against you, you may be required to pay them large sums of money. A judgment against you could endanger your pocketbook, your livelihood, and your reputation.
3. Prevent it Before it is a Problem
In order to inoculate your organization from civil claims arising from sexual misconduct, you should make every effort to prevent bad behavior before it happens.
Offer training to your employees or volunteers about what they can and can not say or do at work. Even if someone later sues you, the fact that your company offered training on maintaining a safe workplace will be helpful.
Conduct an audit of your workplace to make sure your procedures are all compliant with appropriate discrimination and EEOC laws. Make sure your HR department has a documented way of dealing with problematic behavior. An employee handbook clearly laying out policies is another way to show you have done all you can to comply with civil law and prevent sexually inappropriate conduct.
4. Even Civil Actions Can Have a Lasting Negative Impact
If you are hit with a civil suit for sexual misconduct, you may be relieved that you are not facing criminal charges. However, you should be aware that civil charges carry serious ramifications.
If the court finds that you or someone in your organization has violated the law, you may have to pay monetary damages. These awards can be very high and have a lasting impact on your personal or corporate finances.
A court may also issue an injunction, which can bar you from certain places or from having contact with certain individuals.
Cases of this nature are often picked up by the press. Even if you are successful in defending against civil claims of sexual misconduct, there may be a lasting impact on your reputation.
Contact a Lawyer Right Away If You Face Claims Under Civil Law
Although you may represent yourself in a civil lawsuit, an attorney with strong experience in civil litigation is better equipped to defend you. He or she can negotiate a settlement which may not only save you money but protect your reputation and your business as well.
If you are looking for representation for sexual misconduct or other civil claims, contact us.