Are You Protecting Your Place of Worship from Liability?
5 Ways to Mitigate Liability in Your Church
Protecting your place of worship from liability concerns is imperative but liability is a word that often invokes fear. Pastors, deacons, priests, etc. are troubled by the thought of their place of worship being held liable for incidents or injuries, but the truth is, places of worship face many risks they need to understand and take action to avoid. Today we are going to discuss some ways places of worship can be proactive to prevent being held liable.
Critical Areas to Consider
- Job Descriptions
- Church Safety
- Waivers for High-risk Activities
- Child & Youth Workers
Whether it be a hired employee on a salary, or a volunteer that is running the children’s area, adopting clear position descriptions can help places of worship avoid liability. Job descriptions should clearly outline the role employees and volunteers play and the scope to which they should perform their job. If an incident occurs because the person was outside of their outlined position, the place of worship could avoid liability.
One of the most vulnerable areas for church liability comes from the areas around it. For instance, upraised roots or uneven pavement. To prevent these potential accidents, regularly walk through all areas of your church looking specifically for possible hazards, and use the perspective of an elderly adult, or someone with a disability such as visual impairment. By doing so, you are meeting the needs of specific types of people that are more prone to accidents.
When you do notice a hazard, make every attempt to repair it quickly or have it removed. In some instances, your congregation members may point out a potential hazard, if this is the case, provide timely and noticeable action (wet floor sign, caution tape, etc.) until it can be properly addressed.
If your place of worship sponsors high-risk activities for youth trips, educate parents, guardians and students of the potential hazards and have them sign liability waivers. Examples of high-risk activities include: skiing, paint-ball, rock climbing, beach trips, rafting, zip-lining, etc. When drawing up a liability release form, have it include:
- The type of activity and description
- Potential risks
- Certification that the participant is physically able to do so
- Consent signed by both the participant and the parent/guardian
- Acknowledgment that they understand and assume the risks
- Medical consent allowing treatment in the event of injury or illness
Child & Youth Workers
Whether hired staff or volunteers, all individuals working with children need to go through a thorough screening process. This screening process should include their name, address, date of birth, Social Security number, references who are not family, and information on their criminal background. When this information is obtained investigate all of the information provided.
To increase the safety of all children and youths, require a waiting period for those in your congregation to work with the children and youth age groups. Typically this is a six month waiting period and requires that the volunteer is a member of the church.
A buddy system is effective in diminishing hearsay. Require that at least two workers are with all youths and children at all times, so no one is alone. Also enact protocol that no unsupervised cross-gender contact is happening. If a student needs counseling, they should receive it from a person of their gender.
To comply with state laws, establish a child-adult ratios that your state calls for. Consult with your legal team for these exact numbers.
The number one way to prevent serious liability issues for your place of worship is to have and maintain adequate insurance coverage. Your policy should periodically be reviewed by your legal counsel, at least once per year, and prior to your areas natural disaster season.
By taking a prevention stance, your place of worship can potentially avoid liability. Sitting down and discussing options with a legal team informed on your place of worships activities is critical, but so is taking a proactive approach to safety. Safety and security should be the focus when protecting your church, avoiding liability will fall into place with effective safety measures.