Friday, December 13, 2013
Child abuse has traditionally been viewed as the exclusive province of the child welfare system and the police. But when child abuse accusations are made against an employee, such as a teacher or a childcare worker, it is also an employment law problem. The employer must decide how to respond to the accusations and whether to retain the employee accused of abuse. The employer's role becomes especially important when the child welfare system declines to take action following a report of abuse, or when the alleged conduct is insufficiently abusive to trigger a mandated report to the state.
Ignoring the employment law dimension of child abuse and mistreatment has proven problematic for employers, the accused employees, and the children in their care. Courts and labor arbitrators often inadvertently discourage employers from adopting better internal processes for preventing and mitigating child abuse and mistreatment. Employers who naively defer to child welfare determinations in their contracts and policies can find themselves hamstrung when they later find it necessary to discipline an employee notwithstanding state inaction. Passive employers also harm their employees by failing to provide notice and training on acceptable forms of workplace conduct.
A regulatory system that encourages employers to play a more active role could benefit children and their parents. Workplace-specific policies and practices can be crafted and updated in consultation with the preferences of their constituent parents. Children may be less likely to be harmed where an employer implements robust processes for preventing and addressing abuse and mistreatment.