Right or Wrong? Church insurance review

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Our church’s insurance carrier insisted we conduct a risk/safety assessment of our property, business plan and ministries. What does that mean? Where do we start?

The request triggers two obligations – to your insurance company and to people who are involved in your ministries. The first step would be to question your insurance company or agent. Ask what items of practice or policy they want assessed and what data they want as a result of the process.

Several areas of your ministries involve legal liability, for which your insurance company provides coverage. The first is personnel, including paid staff and volunteers. Do you have policies for checking the references, background and criminal histories of anyone employed by the church, from pastor to maintenance staff? An informal online search can be informative. While your pastor and staff usually are “employees at will” who can be fired for any reason, policies may outline reasons for discipline.

Background checks

A criminal background check also is essential for volunteers, particularly anyone working with children. While it may seem unnecessary to check elderly longtime members, the policy should be uniform and explained as an insurance requirement. You need policies concerning contact with children. For example, at least two adults should be present, a minimum ratio of adults to children should be set for activities, and written permission should be received from parents and guardians for special events.

Financial policies should direct who handles money, has access to bank accounts and reviews accounts. Regular and accurate bookkeeping and auditing is essential.

Another area of concern is your building and grounds. Public areas should be well-lighted and inspected regularly for hazards. Are emergency escape routes clearly marked and accessible? Access to buildings should be limited so church staff and volunteers are aware of who is entering the building and can keep an eye out for anyone who may intend to commit a crime.

Clean and safe

Standards should be followed for cleanliness, especially for restrooms and areas where food is prepared and served. All areas should be inspected regularly for anything that could cause someone to fall, and appropriate repairs should be made for any damage or dangers about the premises. In older buildings, asbestos or lead paint may be problems your insurer may require you to remediate.

The other area of concern is the operation of church vehicles. Any driver should have a valid license for the vehicle, since special licensing may be required for buses or vans. Knowledge and experience operating those vehicles should be required. Driving records should be checked. Insurance is a necessity to protect your church and drivers from liability for accidents they may cause and from damage to vehicles. Coverage also should protect occupants in church vehicles from damages they may suffer from negligence of under-insured or uninsured drivers.

This assessment should satisfy your insurance company you are aware and taking steps to avoid risks while meeting your ethical obligation for the safety of those your ministries serve.

Cynthia Holmes, attorney

St. Louis, Mo.

If you have a comment about this column or wish to ask a question for a future column, contact Bill Tillman, consulting ethicist for “Right or Wrong” at  btillman150@gmail.com.

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