The #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements have captured headlines and national attention in recent months, placing a renewed emphasis on understanding, exposing, and preventing sexual misconduct. It is imperative that churches and nonprofits understand the legal, practical, and public relations implications of this crucial subject. A poorly handled response to such an allegation will mangle the mission of the church or organization and may lead to an expensive and time-consuming legal labyrinth.
Legal claims for sexual harassment typically arise in the employment context. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that churches take action to prevent this threat from taking root in their workplaces and carefully address any issues that do arise in a prompt and honest way.
Key point. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, sexual harassment is a form of sex-based discrimination. See 42 U.S.C. 2000e-2(a). Only churches with 15 or more employees that engage in interstate commerce are subject toTitle VII. While only between 1 percent and 2 percent of all churches are subject to Title VII, several states enforce comparable laws—and many use a lower employee threshold.
Why churches need a policy
It may be tempting to believe that something as serious as workplace sexual harassment could never occur in your church. Understandably, many leaders may feel reluctant to think in detail about how to handle something so unpleasant and something that they hope will never happen. Still, the best time to create a sexual harassment policy is well before one is needed. It is much easier to create a wise plan of action before the pressures, emotions, and relational complexities among the people in your church arise in a moment of crisis.