Today’s article provides valuable insights for organizations planning in-person events - when and why you might need a COVID waiver.
About the Author: Daryl McCarl, Director of Business Development at Smartwaiver, has helped thousands of organizations globally manage their waiver process and lends his expertise here with a few key insights.
COVID-19 has taken a toll on all sorts of businesses and organizations over the last year. For nonprofit fundraising professionals, one of the most significant challenges related to fundraising events. Even as things are starting to look up, businesses are reopening, and organizations are considering in-person events again, it’s important to recognize the various risks of physical gatherings.
More specifically, you need to put precautions in place to ensure your organization is protected if someone is exposed or becomes ill due to an event you host. One solution we’ve seen rolling out in recent months is COVID-specific waivers. But are they effective? Will they protect your organization if it comes down to a legal battle? You’ll likely have a lot of questions on the topic.
At Smartwaiver, we provide organizations with an innovative digital waiver platform to protect against all sorts of liabilities. We’ve seen businesses and groups of all kinds adopt COVID waivers as they begin adapting to the new normal, and we believe that this type of release can be a huge help. However, no waiver is 100% foolproof, so it’s crucial to create and enact your liability releases with these considerations in mind:
- Follow safety protocol regardless.
- Draft your waiver with oversight from a lawyer.
- Ensure that participants acknowledge risks.
- Have signers release your organization from liability.
In this quick guide, we’ll discuss each of these best practices for maximizing the effectiveness of your COVID waivers, as well as explore the various benefits of digital liability waivers during the pandemic and beyond. Let’s jump in!
1. Follow safety protocol regardless.
As you begin planning in-person and hybrid events for your nonprofit, you must keep basic safety protocols in mind. After all, even the most effective liability waiver will not protect your organization in the case of gross negligence.
To protect against COVID exposure and infection, you might want to enact the following health and safety guidelines:
- Social distancing: Encourage participants to space themselves apart from one another, allowing for at least six feet between groups. If your event involves a seating area, spread out tables and chairs or block off sections where guests cannot sit.
- Face coverings: Require face coverings or masks to participate in your event, and provide disposable masks for attendees who show up without them.
- Sanitization: Provide hand sanitizer for participants and ensure tables and chairs are sanitized between attendees.
- Contact tracing: Keep track of who sits where so you have a better idea of who might have been exposed to the virus if there is an outbreak between attendees.
- Temperature checks: Scan participants’ temperature with a hands-free thermometer before admitting them to your event.
- Health questionnaires: Ask questions about recent travel history, symptoms, and known exposures to understand participants’ risk better.
- Attendance maximums: Place a cap on the number of supporters who can participate in your event in person, encouraging others to get involved online from home.
- Contactless solutions: Ensure participants can register, pay, donate, and fill out your COVID waiver online from their computers and mobile devices.
Let’s say your organization is planning a walk-a-thon-fundraiser for cancer research. You might require that participants stay at least six feet away from each other, hosting your event in a larger outdoor space than you previously would have. Additionally, you can provide sanitization stations throughout the walking path, practice contract tracing, and place a cap on the number of walkers who can participate in person.
By enforcing protocols, you show that your organization is dedicated to the health and safety of participants and team members. On the other hand, if you held an event with thousands of people packed into a small, poorly ventilated venue, participants who contracted the virus would have a better case for legal action.
However, the risk for exposure still remains even after doing everything you can to minimize it—which is where your waiver comes in.
2. Draft your waiver with oversight from a lawyer.
More than likely, you and your colleagues do not have a ton of legal experience to fall back on. However, ensuring your liability waivers are effective (i.e., will hold up in a court setting) is a critical process that is best left to someone with the expertise of a lawyer.
If you don’t have your own lawyer, it’s a good idea to reach out for a consultation. You can either ask the lawyer to write your COVID waiver from scratch or have them take a look at an existing draft and provide legal advice and feedback.
The most important thing is that you should involve an attorney in your waiver-building process. After all, you don’t want to risk losing out on valuable fundraising revenue and miss out critical mission dollars because you end up in a costly legal battle due to poor wording.
Then, you can easily adapt your approved COVID waiver to cover a number of different activities. For example, you’re hosting a walk-a-thon fundraiser this week (and have the waiver ready to go from your attorney), and have an in-person gala coming up in a few months. With a few tweaks and adjustments, you’ll be well on your way to having an effective gala waiver as well!
3. Ensure that participants acknowledge risks.
One of the most critical elements of any liability waiver is the section where participants read and acknowledge an explicit list of risks associated with the event or activity. For your walk-a-thon fundraiser, that might have traditionally focused on physical injuries. Now, it should certainly mention COVID exposure as a possible threat.
For example, you might include a note along the following lines: “Despite our best efforts and safety measures, [X organization] cannot guarantee a COVID-free environment. I acknowledge that, by participating in this event, I may be exposed to or infected with the COVID-19 virus.”
The best way to ensure your participants were informed of the risks is by incorporating the process into your event registration. This way, you can require attendees to fill out your liability waiver before they can complete their registration form. If it comes down to it, you have proof that they acknowledged the risks.
4. Have signers release your organization from liability.
Going one critical step further than the acknowledgement of risks is ensuring that participants explicitly release your organization from liability should they become harmed in any way.
This statement can be as simple as “I release and hold [X organization] harmless from exposure to the COVID-19 virus and any and all resulting harm. I understand that [X organization] cannot be held responsible for any bodily injury, illness, death, or medical treatment that may arise.”
When participants both acknowledge the risks and waive their right to a lawsuit beforehand, it can not only protect your organization if it does come to a legal battle, but also discourage individuals from pursuing legal action in the first place.
However, as we said above, it’s important to get your lawyer involved with the phrasing of your liability release to ensure that your waiver includes all necessary information.
5. Provide a contactless waiver experience.
Once you’ve drafted the language for your release of liability waiver, it’s time to determine the channel you'll use to share it with participants. While you might have traditionally used paper forms or even PDFs to collect signatures and store that critical information, hands-free waiver software like these is likely to be your best bet.
In the COVID-era, we’ve learned to appreciate the value of all sorts of contactless and hands-free solutions—your waivers are no different! Gone are the days of handing out communal pens and clipboards to sign a physical sheet of paper. Not only does that outdated process facilitate the spread of germs, but it’s also inconvenient for signers and team members alike.
COVID waivers are an excellent idea for businesses and organizations offering in-person engagement opportunities while things are still uncertain. Although they might not be 100% effective, by following suggested protocols, getting insight from your lawyer, and ensuring participants acknowledge risks and release your team from liability, you’ll undoubtedly be better prepared than those who forego waivers altogether.
Even better, these best practices can continue to set your organization up for ongoing success even after the pandemic subsides. Good luck!