Steps Community College Employees Should Take to Avoid Being Held Individually Liable

Community college employees may be entitled to immunity from liability in the event their actions result in injury to an employee or student. However, immunity does not apply in all circumstances. Community college employees, as public employees, may be held individually liable in some circumstances where private sector employees are not. Accordingly, it is important that employees take steps to avoid being held individually liable.

A community college employee’s first step in avoiding individual liability is to read and understand the college’s policies and procedures and follow them as written. Also, many programs within the college have developed program guidelines. Employees must have a working knowledge of these guidelines and make sure that they are uniformly applied as written.

Proper documentation can also help an employee from being held individually liable. The documentation should include specific facts regarding a situation, such as dates, times, names of those involved and the actions of those involved. The documentation should also reflect the process used to reach a decision, such as what investigation was conducted, who was interviewed and what records were reviewed. The reason for the action taken should also be documented, along with reactions to the discipline. Any policies, procedures or correspondence being relied upon should be referenced and attached.

Another step to avoid individual liability includes handling all disciplines and terminations in a private setting. When meeting with the employee or student, give specific and truthful reasons for the decision being made, focus on the problem behavior and do not criticize personality traits of the employee or student. Explain the steps you have taken to reach your decision. Also, show compassion about the impact of the decision, without showing remorse for the decision. If the employee or student becomes explosive or aggressive, stay calm, remain polite and listen carefully. No matter what the employee or student says, do not embarrass or insult them and do not argue the issue with them. Finally, avoid any kind of physical contact with the employee or student.

While following these steps may not guarantee that a community college employee will not be held individually liable, they go a long way in helping one avoid liability.

Mr. Sturdy can be reached at (734) 261-2400 or psturdy@cmda-law.com.