You can be personally liable for what happens in your workplace

It comes as a surprise to most managers when a plaintiff names them personally as a co-defendant in a lawsuit against the manager’s company. The ugly truth? Personal tort actions against individual managers and employees often accompany discrimination and harassment claims.

Disgruntled employees may target a manager not for what he did, but for what he did not do—for not preventing the harassment or discrimination and thus being part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

As a manager, you have a legal responsibility to make sure your employees’ workplace is free from harassment and discrimination. You may be innocent of harassment or discrimination yourself, but if the crew you manage was sexually or racially hostile and you did not take appropriate action, you may have liability. Even if the alleged victim never complained to you, you needed to be alert to the inappropriate conduct and put an end to it.

Several important distinctions exist, though. The court in the landmark Janken v. G.M. Hughes Electronics lawsuit concluded that it had been the legislature’s intent to place individual supervisory employees at risk of personal liability for personal conduct constituting harassment, though not the legislature’s intent to place individual supervisory employees at risk of personal liability for discriminatory personnel management decisions, such as hiring and firing; promotion or demotion; or job, project or work station assignments.

The Janken decision also eliminated a supervisory employee’s personal liability for intentional infliction of emotional distress claims arising out of personnel management decisions, even if improper motivation was alleged.

Finally, while under common law, all individuals have liability for their own actions that injure another, in most jurisdictions, individuals cannot be found liable under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act; the Americans with Disabilities Act or the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. Managers do not have liability under these laws because the manager is not the employee’s employer.


© Dr. Lynne Curry is author of “Beating the Workplace Bully” and “Solutions” as well as Regional Director of Training and Business Consulting for The Growth Company, an Avitus Group Company. Follow her on Twitter @lynnecury10 or at

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