Staff Contact with Program Participants
A staff member at a local YMCA was asked to babysit one of the children in their after school programs on the weekend. Seeing no issue with this, the staff member agreed. This turned into a weekly babysitting arrangement. A few months later, the child accused the staff member of abuse. Even though the staff member denied the allegations, since they had spent so much time with the child alone, there was no one to vouch for them. Criminal charges were filed against the employee and the YMCA was brought into the lawsuit filed by the parents.
Members with these requests often approach employees at community organizations like YMCAs. This doesn’t only happen to employees working with children. Personal trainers are asked if they can come train someone at their home instead of at the gym. Lifeguards are requested to guard during a pool party at a member’s home. These jobs can be tempting for employees, as they seem like an easy way to make money on the side and sometimes pay more than their job at the organization. There are, however, many additional risks.
Risks of Staff Members Accepting Outside Jobs with Members
- One-on-one contact with anyone, not just children, outside of the organization can be an issue for an employee. A child could accuse the employee of abuse. A personal training client could accuse the employee of hurting them. With no one to verify what happens, any accusation turns into a word-vs-word dispute. When this happens, employees and organizations often come out on the losing side.
- Organizations are often held liable for their employees’ actions outside of work, especially if the relationship began at the organization. Victims and their families are looking for help when something happens and the deep pockets are with the organization, not the perpetrator.
- Employees may be getting themselves into dangerous situations and they could end up getting hurt which would affect their ability to work at the organization.
- Especially for a lifeguard, the environment may not be as controlled as they're used to; this increases the risk they may not respond appropriately to an emergency.
- Employees may start to favor children or members they work with outside of the organization. Parents in the childcare program may notice the employee pays special attention to the child they babysit. While on duty, a lifeguard may be more tempted to chat with a member who they frequently work for. This can cause complaints and also lead to employees being less effective at their jobs. Alternately, fallout from a dispute that took place between a member and employee during their outside relationship can also create issues in the workplace.
So What Can an Organization Do?
There are basically two choices for an organization facing this type of dilemma: prohibit contact between employees and program participants or require a waiver if this outside contact does occur. It’s worth noting that the YMCA of the USA recommends prohibiting this kind of conduct. However, some organizations may not see this as feasible, especially if they're located in a small town where these kinds of relationships are more common. In those cases, a strong waiver reviewed by legal counsel can help to reduce some of the risks.