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Reporting Sexual Misconduct to Future Employers

Churches are not generally required to warn future employers of an individual's sexual misconduct.

Key Point 8-24. A reference letter is a letter that evaluates the qualifications and suitability of a person for a particular position. Churches, like other employers, often use reference letters to screen new employees and volunteers. Churches often are asked to provide reference letters on current or former workers. The law generally provides employers with important protections when responding to a reference letter request. However, liability may still arise in some cases, such as if the employer acts with malice in drafting a reference letter.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court unanimously ruled that a church does not have an affirmative duty to warn future employers that one of its ministers had molested several boys. Five adult males (the "plaintiffs") alleged that they were sexually abused by a priest from 1968 to 1973 when he was employed as a teacher by a parochial school in Kentucky.

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Richard R. Hammar is an attorney, CPA and author specializing in legal and tax issues for churches and clergy.

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Posted:
  • July 1, 2009

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