12 Steps to Avoiding Liability in Community College Districts

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This workbook is intended to offer helpful guidance to executives and high-level administrators of community college districts on how to avoid liability.  The 12 Steps to Avoiding Liability are based on the many years of experience of the firm's attorneys in advising and defending public agencies.  Each of the Steps focuses on actions that a district can take to avoid situations which commonly lead to or increase liability for public agencies.  The Steps are meant to be general guides for quick reference by the executive without legalese or exhaustive detail.

In today's complicated society, administrators and supervisors are expected to walk through a field of legal "land mines" on a daily basis.  Federal and state constitutions, federal and state laws, the Education Code, board policies and procedures, labor agreements, work rules, local arbitration decisions and personnel commission decisions define the laws public agencies must follow  This workbook is intended to serve as a basic survival kit.  We hope the checklists included in the 12 Steps will assist you in analyzing a situation and point you in the right direction. 

The 12 Steps are meant to be a practical guide to situations which commonly create liability for a district.  You should consult with your human resources department, and/or labor and employment attorneys regarding specific employee relations situations.

Topics Include:

Types of Liability

Step 1 – Follow the Rules      

  • The Consequences of a District Failing to Follow Its Own Rules      
  • Failure to Follow District Policies and Procedures May Be a Plaintiff’s Main Exhibit in a
  • Discrimination Lawsuit           
  • Ensuring Compliance with a District’s Policies and Procedures May Bar Claims or Help Districts
  • Defend Against Liability in Civil Litigation   
  • Checklist on How to Avoid Violations of A District’s Policies, Procedures and Other Rules 

Step 2 – Train and Retrain

Step 3 – Establish an Effective Hiring and Employee Retention Process     

  • Utilize Accurate Job Descriptions     
  • Have Good Reasons for Your Hiring Decisions        
  • Avoid the Appearance of Favoritism 
  • Retain Good Employees by Mentorship, recognition and reward

Step 4 – Accountability for All

  • Performance Evaluations Must Be Accurate 
  • The Importance of Documentation and Recordkeeping        
  • Empower Your Human Resources Department        

Step 5 – Be Honest, Consistent, and Fair

  • Honesty          
  • Consistency    
  • Fairness          

Step 6 – Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

  • Principles of Effective Communication         
  • Dealing with the Public and the Media         
  • Listen to Your Employees     
  • Training and Performance Evaluations Are Other Means of Communication          
  • Communicate Expectations   
  • Communication Requires Feedback  
  • Avoid Stray Remarks 

Step 7 – Pick Your Battles Wisely

  • Be Realistic – Management Will Not Prevail in Every Labor Relations Dispute    
  • Think Broadly and Long Term          
  • Successful Labor Negotiations Involve More Than Financial Goals
  • Realize That Change May be Unsettling and Threatening to Employees     

Step 8 – Due Process Matters

  • Due Process Arising From Complaints of Discrimination, Harassment or Retaliation        
  • Due Process in Disciplinary Matters 
  • Avoid Personal and District Liability

Step 9 – Investigate before It’s Too Late

  • Investigations Should Be Conducted Promptly        
  • Districts Must Follow Their Own Rules during Investigations        
  • If Investigations Reveal Violations of Rules or Law, Act Promptly to Remedy the Situation and
  • Prevent Re-Occurrences        

Step 10 – Everything Is “Discoverable”

  • Most Documents Constitute Public Records under the California Public Records Act       
  • Careless Statements in E-Mail Are a Plaintiff’s Best Friend
  • The Brown Act          

Step 11 – Litigate to Win!

  • Help Your Attorney Help You!         
  • All Testimony Should Be Taken Seriously   
  • Checklist for Testifying as a Witness

Step 12 – Don’t Take It Personally

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