Protect Your Board Against Lawsuits

Lawsuits against churches and ministries are on the rise, making their board members especially vulnerable. Sometimes, courts have found directors and officers personally liable when their actions have resulted in financial damages.

Consider these examples:

  • Providing inadequate bookkeeping or financial oversight.
  • Allowing personal motives to drive church-related decisions.
  • Failing to preserve tax-exempt status.

Even well-meaning actions could put the personal assets of board members at risk. However, by taking steps to limit liability, church and ministry boards can find stronger legal positions in which they can properly function.

Incorporate your ministry

If a church is incorporated, board members can gain the same legal protections that apply to board members in businesses. This protection comes with two requirements:

  • The Prudent Person Rule protects board members from personal liability for board actions or decisions unless a “reasonably prudent person” would have avoided such actions or decisions under the circumstances.
  • The Duty of Loyalty Rule says that a board member’s actions and decisions must be free of personal motives.

When incorporating, first contact an attorney who is familiar with not-for-profit laws in your state.

Include bylaw protection

If your bylaws do not include indemnification provisions, enlist the help of a local attorney to draft some. These provisions could prevent board members from having to pay out-of-pocket costs if they are sued in connection with their ministry work. Evaluate your bylaws regularly by appointing a task force to review the bylaws for necessary changes or additions.

Consider charitable immunity laws

Most states have charitable immunity laws that can protect volunteer workers—and potentially board members—from being sued in connection with their volunteer service. That immunity, however, is limited because the laws generally:

  • Protect volunteers only, not church organizations or employees.
  • Prevent certain people from suing.
  • Protect some—not all—activities.
  • Removal from a lawsuit requires that volunteers hire an attorney.

Charitable immunity laws are complicated and vary by state. Ask a local attorney to review applicable state and federal charitable immunity laws with you.

Insure your board members

Standard general liability insurance policies do not cover claims against directors or officers for financial damages resulting from their failure to perform their duties. Separate directors and officers coverage helps protect board members’ personal assets in the event of certain financial damages and lawsuits. It also covers financial damages that other parties undergo when leaders fail to perform their duties properly.

February 9, 2018
Flu Is Widespread: Protect Your Congregation
Flu Is Widespread: Protect Your Congregation

For the first time in its 13 years of influenza monitoring, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting that every state in the continental U.S. is seeing widespread flu activity. Get tips on how to keep your congregation healthy this flu season.

Tags: health safety, risk, protect, health, flu
June 19, 2017
Off-Site Youth Activities
Off-Site Youth Activities

Snow skiing. Camping. Whitewater rafting. A youth group trip can give students an exciting diversion from their weekly routines, as well as an opportunity to strengthen healthy friendships. Off-site activities may challenge your students to step outside of their comfort zones a bit, but this can bring about a positive result.

 

Tags: youth, insurance, safety
June 7, 2017
Insurance Protection Should Accompany Every Mission Trip
Insurance Protection Should Accompany Every Mission Trip

If you are in the process of planning a mission trip for your church group, make sure to think carefully about insurance, safety, and security as you hammer out the details. Extra preparation could minimize headaches when your group arrives on the mission field.

Tags: mission insurance, foreign travel, liability, coverage
May 24, 2017
Think Before You Loan Your Ministry's Vehicles
Think Before You Loan Your Ministry's Vehicles

Has your church or school ever been asked to loan one of your vans or buses to another? Before you decide to loan your ministry vehicles to another organization, seriously consider the potential risks associated with such a decision.

Tags: auto insurance, loaning vehicles
March 29, 2017
Has Your Church Completed a Personal Property Inventory?
Has Your Church Completed a Personal Property Inventory?

Completing a personal property inventory of your church or ministry could be one of the wisest activities you can pursue. If disaster strikes and you file an insurance claim, you may need an inventory highlighting damaged items.

Tags: claims, coverage, insurance, property
March 15, 2017
Is Your Ministry as Safe as It Could Be?
Is Your Ministry as Safe as It Could Be?

Have you thought through potential dangers that may confront your ministry? Taking steps to consider and address these risks provides important protection from injuries, lawsuits, fires, and dozens of other hazards that may affect your ministry, especially your employees and those you serve.

Tags: protect, safety, security, security team, protecting staff members, risk management
February 22, 2017
Health Care Reimbursement Option Now Available
Health Care Reimbursement Option Now Available

Small businesses—including churches and related ministries—can once again pay premiums for their employees’ health insurance. Previously known as an Employer Payment Plan (EPP) or Health Reimbursement Account (HRA), these arrangements violated the Affordable Care Act (ACA). However, due to a recently passed law, ministries that are not part of a group health plan now have another option to help employees with health care costs.

Tags: church staff, health insurance
February 15, 2017
IRS Warns of Dangerous W-2 Email Scam
IRS Warns of Dangerous W-2 Email Scam

Ministries beware: An email scheme, designed to coincide with tax season, asks payroll and human resource professionals to disclose employees’ personal information. Think you wouldn’t fall for such a scam? You might, if the email looks as if it came from someone in your ministry.

Tags: IRS regulations, paying employees, cyber security, church staff, security, damages, digital
February 1, 2017
Dual Tax Status: What Does It Mean for Your Pastor?
Dual Tax Status: What Does It Mean for Your Pastor?

Under federal law, most ministers have dual tax status. Dual tax status means a minister is an employee of the church for federal income tax purposes, and self-employed for Social Security and Medicare taxes. Here’s what you need to know.

Tags: church payroll, finance, IRS regulations, paying employees, tax code
January 18, 2017
Protect Your Board Against Lawsuits
Protect Your Board Against Lawsuits

Lawsuits against churches and ministries are on the rise, making their board members especially vulnerable. Sometimes, courts have found directors and officers personally liable when their actions have resulted in financial damages.

Tags: protect, directors and officers, protecting staff members
January 4, 2017
Incorporation Can Protect Church Members
Incorporation Can Protect Church Members

Incorporation takes the weight of responsibility off the shoulders of individuals and instead, places it on the organization. In contrast, a court may find all members of an unincorporated church legally responsible for negligent or criminal actions committed by one church member.

Tags: protect, directors and officers, protecting staff members
December 7, 2016
Keep Would-Be Thieves from Curbing your Christmas Joy
Keep Would-Be Thieves from Curbing your Christmas Joy

Large or small, churches and ministries are often easy prey for would-be thieves, especially as church holidays, like Christmas, approach and weekly offerings increase as more people return to worship and other ministry activities. Ministry leaders can boost their ability to keep thieves away from their contributions and property by taking just a few precautions—not only during the holidays, but also throughout the year.

Tags: damages, insurance, claims, liability, protect, risk, safety, church offerings, financial gifts
November 30, 2016
Are Your Church Christmas Decorations a Fire Hazard?
Are Your Church Christmas Decorations a Fire Hazard?

Churches seldom look more beautiful than when they're decorated for the holidays. Candles, lights, and greenery add splendor to the celebration of Christ's birth. Unfortunately, they also contribute to a number of fires each December. As you haul out the decorations, remember to balance beauty with safety.

 

Tags: damages, insurance, claims, liability, protect, risk, safety, fire prevention
November 16, 2016
Always Looking for Church Nursery Volunteers?
Always Looking for Church Nursery Volunteers?

Having a hard time finding people to serve in the church nursery? Do new volunteers stop serving, shortly after they begin?  There could be a number of reasons for that.

Tags: safety, risk, protect, liability, youth, volunteers
November 9, 2016
Take Steps to Prevent the Flu
Take Steps to Prevent the Flu

Do you remember the last time you caught the flu? You probably sneezed and coughed and ached all over, resting your stuffy head by a box of tissues and wishing you had the energy to do more than lie there. Well, it’s time to watch out. The flu virus is preparing to pounce again.  

Tags: damages, insurance, claims, health safety, risk
October 26, 2016
Safety Makes for an Enjoyable Hayride
Safety Makes for an Enjoyable Hayride

Every fall, thousands of churches across the nation sponsor hayrides. Unfortunately, these events sometimes lead to serious injuries, even deaths. By following these suggestions, you can minimize the risks involved in sponsoring hayrides and make your hayride a safe and enjoyable experience.

Tags: church payroll, finance, IRS regulations, paying employees, tax code, liability, outdoor activities, protect, risk, safety
September 14, 2016
New Overtime Ruling Takes Effect in December
New Overtime Ruling Takes Effect in December

Last May, the United States Department of Labor announced a new standard for determining who qualifies as an exempt employee under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The new ruling says that if an employee earns less than $47,476 per year ($913 per week), then in most cases the employee needs to be classified as non-exempt. This change will take effect December 1, 2016.

Tags: damages, insurance, claims, church payroll, church staff, paying employees, Fair Labor Standards Act
September 7, 2016
Ministries Can Take Steps to Protect their Beliefs
Ministries Can Take Steps to Protect their Beliefs

Issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) laws have received a great deal of media and government attention since the 2015 Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage. As a result, many ministry leaders have questions about what the law requires and how they can accommodate LGBTQ* individuals without compromising their religious beliefs

Tags: liability, insurance, protect, religious freedom
August 31, 2016
Take the Confusion out of Borrowing or Leasing Vehicles
Take the Confusion out of Borrowing or Leasing Vehicles

From time to time, your church or ministry may need to borrow or lease a vehicle for a special event. Before using a vehicle that you don’t own, you need to consider a number of factors.

Tags: auto insurance, liability
August 24, 2016
Knowing the Terms Can Help You Understand Your Auto Policy
Knowing the Terms Can Help You Understand Your Auto Policy

Understanding your commercial auto insurance policy can sometimes seem as complicated as navigating rush-hour traffic in a crowded church bus. It doesn’t have to be intimating, if you know some of the common components and terms that every insurance policy includes.

Tags: auto insurance, liability