Child abuse policies: not just for schools and churches

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When issues of child abuse arise, they usually result in irreparable damage to a company's reputation. And while institutions traditionally known for dealing with children are usually prepared for such concerns, they're not the only ones that need to worry. Assistant Professor Elizabeth Tippett at the University of Oregon School of Law published a paper this month on the pitfalls of child abuse disputes and how employers can anticipate problems. The employment law specialist offered HRM America the following advice:

If your employees ever deal with children that are not their own, create a policy It's not only schools, childcare centers and churches that need policies for interaction with children. If you have employees that face the public, chances are they will deal with children at some point. A lack of a policy could trip up companies that own retail stores and restaurants if their employees behave irresponsibly. "There's still a problem in workplaces where children are not commonly present, and in those situations it's important to think about when children might be on the premises ... maybe even placing limits on how and when children can be present," said Tippett. However, don't be concerned about parents supervising their own children if they happen to bring them into the office, as the law will treat that within the context of parenting.

Make your policy extremely specific For a court or arbitrator to establish that an employer was not in the wrong, they must first find that the employee was clearly acting outside company policy. A vague policy will not help you establish that. "When you are a lawyer or in HR, the temptation is not to be specific because you don't want to give advice that is misinterpreted," said Tippett, "but the benefits of being specific outweigh the risk.”

Anticipate situations and give clear training Give employees clear alternatives to what their default reactions might be in specific situations. Offer a hypothetical like an unruly, unsupervised toddler, and demonstrate clearly what needs to be done. Prescribe solutions to anticipated problems with children so that your company cannot be held liable for employees’ bad behavior.

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