After a combined 60 plus years of insurance experience within our agency, to borrow the popular TV commercial slogan of late, “We’ve seen a thing or two!”
Obviously, our list of experiences could be quite extensive but we thought we’d share some of the more prominent precautions and important ways we’ve discovered to best protect your ministry.
1. Background Checks Are Not Enough
To some this could come as a surprise, but despite sexual abuse/misconduct claims being the number one reason churches go to court for close to 20 years, many churches, maybe even the majority of churches, do very little screening of adult workers beyond background checks. With statistics showing that the likelihood of getting a “hit” on a background check is less than 6% and with sex offenders molesting 30 to 40 kids prior to being arrested, this is clearly an ineffective tool and a church should do more!
What every church should do at a minimum for those wanting to work with minors:
- Require a written application.
- Conduct a brief interview.
- Abide by a waiting period before a new member or regular attendee is allowed to work with minors (most legal experts suggest a minimum of six months).
- Adhere to the “2-adult rule” or “never alone” rule – meaning an adult is never to be alone with a minor.
- Complete a Background or Criminal Records Check (national database and national sex offender registry)
2. Transportation Safeguards Should Not Be Downplayed
Do you screen those who drive on your behalf? Do you have written guidelines you follow regarding acceptable ages and driving records? Do you have written guidelines that are clearly communicated with drivers regarding cell phones usage, seat belt guidelines, etc.? Do you understand the continued dangers of 15-passenger vans? Ideally, the answers on these should be “yes” but if not, contact us. We’re happy to share any resources you need.
3. Worker’s Compensation Could Protect You From Financial Disaster
This is perhaps one of the most misunderstood and often overlooked financial protections for a ministry. While not a mandatory coverage in Texas as in most other states, in absence of Worker’s Compensation coverage, an organization loses any common law defense in the event of an employee’s injury or sickness that’s work related. The state can and will mandate how much to pay an employee and for how long. If it’s a serious injury, those costs can become quite significant and could very easily drain a ministry’s resources.
4. There Are Right and Wrong Ways to Use Releases
There are multiple considerations in regards to releases and we can’t address them all in this article, but allow us to address perhaps the top three.
- Release forms often will not be enforced if they are ambiguous or generic in nature. Parents of minors or adults need to know “what they are releasing” and that should be detailed on the actual release form. Generic forms or annual release forms are generally not effective.
- Releases should refer to both known and unknown risks associated with the planned trip or activity.
- Courts have often refused to enforce release forms that attempt to avoid liability for intentional acts, gross negligence, or willful or wanton conduct.
5. Avoid High-Risk Activities
Some refer to this as the “No Fun Rule” but high risk activities conducted or sponsored by a church that result in a serious injury can subject the church to legal action. If you church is considering a high-risk activity (examples: paint ball, rock climbing, rappelling, scuba diving, surfing, hang gliding or anything that might be considered outside the norm,) consult your agent for applicable coverage and your church’s lawyer about the proper use of a waiver or release form such as noted in #4 above.
6. Don’t Let Your Insurance Or Your Church Pay For The Actions Of Others
If another organization is allowed to use your facilities, you do not want you or your insurance to assume the risk for their actions. Transferring that risk to the other organization requires a Certificate of Liability Insurance and most importantly, the church should be named as an Additional Insured. That language should be clearly communicated on the Certificate of Insurance and not just listed as a certificate holder.
7. Maintain Adequate Insurance Coverage
This seems quite remedial, but we review policies on a regular basis that have significant coverage gaps or shortages in coverage. In most cases, these gaps result through just an oversight to detail or perhaps coverage or an organization’s programs have not been reviewed in some time. We recommend using an agent who specializes in insuring churches; just like any other professional you might use ( attorney, accountant, physician etc.) These professionals may be skilled in certain aspects, but outside their everyday level of expertise, they may not fully understand the risks of churches and the various coverage gaps.
These suggestions are not meant to be exhaustive, but are intended to you started towards thinking about the risks your church faces and how to avoid them. Your habits in this will lead to effective actions of protection, but ultimately, seek the Lord’s wisdom in prayer and allow Him to lead you.