Allowing Service Animals at Your Organization

// Ellen Wade on Thursday January 21, 2016

Pets and their owners can be a hard thing to separate. People take them on planes, in cars and even on shopping trips in specially-designed bags.  But some people need an animal in their life for more than just companionship.

They need animals to help them cross the street safely, remind them to take their medication and alert them they are about to have a seizure.  There is a clear difference between a pet and a service animal.  If you’ve ever wondered whether or not you should allow service animals inside your organization, continue reading.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), if you have members or guests at your facility with services animals, you should be aware of the following regulations:

  • Service animals are defined as “dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.” Examples include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, and pulling a wheelchair, among others.  Service animals are working animals, not pets, and dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals.  Please note, some state and local laws differ, so consult a local attorney for specifics in your state.
  • Service animals are allowed to accompany people with disabilities anywhere the general public is normally allowed to go.
  • Service animals must be controlled by a harness, leash or tether, unless these devices interfere with the services they provide or the individual’s disability prevents them from using these devices.

Other considerations:

  • Train staff and volunteers on how to appropriately interact with service animals and their owners. The ADA only allows staff and volunteers to ask the following two questions:
    1. Is the dog a service animal because of a disability?
    2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform? The staff cannot make any inquiries into the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability or perform the work or task.
  • Allergies or fear of dogs cannot be used as reasons for denying access or refusing service to people using service animals.
  • A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove his or her service animal from the premises, unless
    • The animal is out of control and the handler cannot regain control; or
    • The dog is not housebroken.
  • If your organization sells or serves food, you must allow animals in public areas, even if state or local health codes would prohibit animals on the property.
  • You cannot isolate those who use service dogs from other patrons, treat them less favorably or charge them fees you wouldn’t charge other patrons without animals.

Consider creating a policy for your organization surrounding service animals, including the items listed above, and training staff and volunteers on how to appropriately respond in these situations.  For further information on service animal regulations, review the latest ADA requirements

This material is for information only and is not intended to provide legal or professional advice. You are encouraged to consult with your own attorney or other expert consultants for a professional opinion specific to your situation. This information is only a general description of the available coverages and is not a contract. In an effort to keep your policy coverage affordable, the actual policy contains certain limitations and exclusion. Please refer to your insurance policy for the pertinent contract language and coverages. Some coverages and discounts are not available in all states. GuideOne welcomes all applications, without regard to religion, race, color, national origin, sex, handicap or familial status.

Ellen Wade

Ellen Wade

Ellen Wade is a Marketing Specialist for GuideOne Insurance, focusing on content marketing and social media.

In her free time, she enjoys running, biking, reading and exploring new cities.

Transforming Your Church Into an Emergency Shelter

// Taylor Vivant on Tuesday November 17, 2015

Weather has a significant impact on our daily lives. It determines the clothes we wear and what activities we partake in during the day. But, it especially impacts our lifestyle when it turns severe, threatening our safety or destroying our community. 

Be it a tornado, hurricane, earthquake or wildfire, natural disasters have the ability to change our lives in an instant. In many cases, these natural disasters leave many without resources or even homeless. It is in these cases that communities rely on emergency shelters. Oftentimes, churches serve as a shelter for those in need, supplying food, First Aid, a place to sleep and other necessities. 

If your church decides to give back to the community in this way, there are multiple steps to take and things to consider in order to limit your risk of an insurance claim. 

Prepare Your Building

  • Research local laws and inquire about requirements for establishing a local emergency shelter. 
  • Work with the fire department to determine the maximum occupancy of your facility. 
  • Analyze the layout of your facility, determining a plan in the event of an emergency and adequately communicating the plan to staff and volunteers. 
  • See that all exits are marked and are not obstructed. 
  • Limit guest-accessible areas and secure remaining areas around the building.

Stock Up on Supplies

As an emergency shelter, your church will need to supply individuals and families with multiple resources. First, see that your First Aid kit has all the necessary contents and is fully stocked. Second, ensure you have the proper disaster supplies, including food, water, blankets, personal care products, etc. 

Train Staff and Volunteers

As an emergency shelter, you will heavily rely on staff and volunteers to maintain guest health and safety. Ensure the following areas are discussed:

  • Establish a supervision schedule for volunteers and staff, and see that at least two volunteers are awake and monitoring activity at all times;
  • Continuously monitor all entrances and exits;
  • Only allow those trained in food safety to supervise kitchen activity;
  • Plan a response to persons contracting a communicable disease or coming to the shelter seriously ill;
  • Inspect and monitor walking surfaces to prevent slips, trips and falls; and
  • Plan accordingly for guests with special needs or disabilities.

Establish Rules

Basic rules for an emergency shelter should include the following:

  • No alcohol or illegal drugs are permitted on the premises.
  • No weapons of any kind are permitted on the premises.
  • No violence or verbal abuse will be tolerated.
  • No admittance after 10 p.m.
  • A quiet sleeping time will be maintained by 11 p.m.
  • No smoking in the building.
  • Children must remain with their parent(s) or guardian(s) at all times.
  • Guests must stay in the assigned room or area and cannot wander around the facility.
  • Candles, camping lanterns, oil lamps, and other open flames are prohibited.
  • Individuals who violate any rules will be asked to leave the shelter.

Work with your local and state government to ensure adequate preparedness for all elements of an emergency shelter, and review the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) National Disaster Housing Strategy. Your organization may be called on as an emergency shelter at any point during the year, so it never hurts to be ready at all times.

This material is for information only and is not intended to provide legal or professional advice. You are encouraged to consult with your own attorney or other expert consultants for a professional opinion specific to your situation. This information is only a general description of the available coverages and is not a contract. In an effort to keep your policy coverage affordable, the actual policy contains certain limitations and exclusion. Please refer to your insurance policy for the pertinent contract language and coverages. Some coverages and discounts are not available in all states. GuideOne welcomes all applications, without regard to religion, race, color, national origin, sex, handicap or familial status.

Taylor Vivant

Taylor Vivant

Taylor Vivant is a member of the Corporate Communications and Marketing team at GuideOne Insurance, where she assists in a variety of projects and tasks.

Away from work, she enjoys being active outdoors, adventuring with her friends and planning her next vacation.

Preventing Church Violence

// Eric Spacek, JD, ARM on Tuesday June 23, 2015

A church is often viewed as a safe haven.  Not only by the congregation members, staff and volunteers, but by the community it’s a part of.  However, today’s reality proves that shootings and violent outbreaks are more commonplace and churches aren’t excluded from that.  Most recently, the Charleston Church Shooting that occurred on Wednesday, June 17, demonstrates that violent incidents may occur at any time and churches are vulnerable to such acts.

Shocking as it may seem, violent incidents like the one in Charleston happen several times each year at churches across the country.  And while it’s not a pleasant topic to discuss, churches need to prepare themselves in the unfortunate case that a violent act does occur.  Below are some suggestions for how to make your church and its members less vulnerable.

How to Make Your Church Less Vulnerable

  • If you don’t already have one, create a church Safety and Security Team.  Designate a point person on security issues to be the security director and define the responsibilities of that position.
  • Conduct a security assessment to identify your church’s vulnerabilities.  Ideally, the assessment would be conducted in conjunction with your local law enforcement agency.
  • Develop a church security plan with defined roles for all staff, including greeters, ushers and other frontline workers and volunteers.
  • Within your church security plan, include a seating location for all security personnel, lockdown procedures, crisis communications and an evacuation plan.
  • If appropriate for the size of your church, have walkie-talkies, pagers and/or radios on hand so that you may effectively communicate any issues of concern.
  • Establish a no tolerance policy for fights, altercations and other disruptions.
  • Work with local law enforcement to provide training for staff and volunteers on topics such as dealing with disruptive individuals and identifying and diffusing potentially violent situations.
  • Understand the rules and limitations of a concealed carry weapons permit (CCW) and what your rights as a church are in allowing members or visitors to bring their firearm to church.

How to Make Your Church Members Less Vulnerable

  • Never allow staff to work alone.  Always ensure that there are at least two employees present at all times.
  • Establish an internal distress code that will alert others in the office to your need for assistance.  For example, if your members typically address each other by first name, your distress code could be addressing a colleague by his/her last name (i.e., “Ms. Smith”). 
  • Keep all church doors locked except when in use and limit access points as much as possible.
  • Make sure all church staff members know of and understand the church’s security plan.

The best way to address violence is to be prepared.  There is no assurance that a violent episode can be avoided.  However, you can be prepared for the possibility of an incident occurring and therefore react to a deadly situation in a more timely manner, potentially saving lives.

 

This material is for information only and is not intended to provide legal or professional advice. You are encouraged to consult with your own attorney or other expert consultants for a professional opinion specific to your situation. This information is only a general description of the available coverages and is not a contract. In an effort to keep your policy coverage affordable, the actual policy contains certain limitations and exclusion. Please refer to your insurance policy for the pertinent contract language and coverages. Some coverages and discounts are not available in all states. GuideOne welcomes all applications, without regard to religion, race, color, national origin, sex, handicap or familial status.

Eric Spacek, JD, ARM

Eric Spacek, JD, ARM

Eric Space, JD, ARM is the Director of Risk Management and Loss Control at GuideOne Insurance in West Des Moines, Iowa.  Before joining GuideOne, he served as Minister of Operations for a large Methodist church in Raleigh, N.C., and was a liability litigation trial attorney in Washington, D.C.

Is My Contribution Tax Deductible?

// Ellen Wade on Tuesday February 3, 2015

It’s getting to be that time of year that many of us dread – tax season.  Time to lug out statements, gather forms and try to decipher your state’s tax laws.

One of the more difficult portions to try to determine is whether or not a contribution to a nonprofit is tax deductible.  While I grew up with a parent who is in the tax profession, those genes apparently skip a generation, so when writing this article I turned to GuideOne’s internal Finance Department, as well as the EY Tax Guide 2015 for guidance.  This handy book puts some difficult-to-understand rules into layman’s terms.  Here’s what I learned:

Is a donation to a nonprofit organization tax deductible?

Yes, as long as the organization is a qualifying organization.  Most organizations other than churches and governments must apply to the IRS to become a qualified organization.  If you are unsure if the organization you’ve donated to has a qualified status, check with them.   Or, use the IRS’ online search tool.  Generally, foundations, veterans’ organizations, churches and most nonprofits qualify. 

Some organizations that would not be considered qualifying organizations, and therefore a contribution would not be tax deductible, include certain state bar associations, chambers of commerce, country clubs or other social clubs, homeowners’ associations, labor unions, and political organizations and candidates.

Is a donation directly to a staff member of a qualifying organization tax deductible?

No.  This is not considered a deductible contribution.  According to EY, the following contributions are not tax deductible:

  • Contributions to fraternal societies made for the purpose of paying medical or burial expenses of deceased members.
  • Contributions to individuals who are needy or worthy.  This includes deductions to a qualifying organization when specifying a certain individual.  You can deduct the contribution to a qualifying organization that helps needy or worthy people, but you cannot deduct it if you earmark the contribution for a specific person or family.
  • Payments to a member of the clergy that can be spent as he or she wishes, such as for personal expenses.
  • Expenses you paid for another person who provided services to a qualified organization.
  • Payments to a hospital that are for a specific patient’s care or for services for a specific patient, even if the hospital is operated by a city, state, or other qualified organization.

The distinction here is making a general donation to the organization to do with as they best see fit versus making a donation to a specific person.  The general donation qualifies as tax deductible, while the other does not.  As always, if you have any questions, check with your tax professional to discuss the various intricacies of the law surrounding contribution eligibility, as well as any other tax questions you may have. 

GuideOne is providing this information as a general reference, and does not claim to give tax advice.  Please contact your tax professional for further information.  

This material is for information only and is not intended to provide legal or professional advice. You are encouraged to consult with your own attorney or other expert consultants for a professional opinion specific to your situation. This information is only a general description of the available coverages and is not a contract. In an effort to keep your policy coverage affordable, the actual policy contains certain limitations and exclusion. Please refer to your insurance policy for the pertinent contract language and coverages. Some coverages and discounts are not available in all states. GuideOne welcomes all applications, without regard to religion, race, color, national origin, sex, handicap or familial status.

Ellen Wade

Ellen Wade

Ellen Wade is a Marketing Specialist for GuideOne Insurance, focusing on content marketing and social media.

In her free time, she enjoys running, biking, reading and exploring new cities.

Touchdown! How to Enjoy the Super Bowl without Copyright Infringement

// Eric Spacek, JD, ARM on Tuesday January 27, 2015

The countdown is on. The teams have been decided.  The viewing party has been planned.  It’s Super Bowl time.

Many churches have planned a viewing party for the big event, as it’s a great way to reach across all demographics and share your ministry through an evening of competition, food, and community.  While it sounds like a simple way to entertain your congregation, it’s important to make sure your event complies with the NFL copyright laws to avoid violation.

In the past, churches that hosted Super Bowl events faced potential legal action for doing so because of NFL copyright issues. However, in 2009, the rules were clarified; and since then churches have been allowed to host this social gathering with the following restrictions:

  1. The game must be shown live on equipment you use in your ministry. It cannot be a recording.
  2. Admission for the party cannot be charged. However, donations can be accepted in order to help pay for costs associated with your event.
  3. To avoid any copyright infringements, call the event “The Big Party” or some equivalent, rather than a “Super Bowl Party,” as the event may not be promoted with the use of any trademarked or protected intellectual property. This includes using any of the following:
    • NFL;
    • Super Bowl;
    • Team logos; and
    • Any team names (e.g., Giants, Patriots). The city names where the teams are located are allowed (e.g., New York, New England).

Hosting an event during the game can be a great way to bring those in your congregation closer together. Just be sure you adhere to these guidelines to avoid receiving your own personal foul from the NFL.

If your church hosted a viewing party we want to know!  Post photos of your event on our Facebook page!

This material is for information only and is not intended to provide legal or professional advice. You are encouraged to consult with your own attorney or other expert consultants for a professional opinion specific to your situation. This information is only a general description of the available coverages and is not a contract. In an effort to keep your policy coverage affordable, the actual policy contains certain limitations and exclusion. Please refer to your insurance policy for the pertinent contract language and coverages. Some coverages and discounts are not available in all states. GuideOne welcomes all applications, without regard to religion, race, color, national origin, sex, handicap or familial status.

Eric Spacek, JD, ARM

Eric Spacek, JD, ARM

Eric Space, JD, ARM is the Director of Risk Management and Loss Control at GuideOne Insurance in West Des Moines, Iowa.  Before joining GuideOne, he served as Minister of Operations for a large Methodist church in Raleigh, N.C., and was a liability litigation trial attorney in Washington, D.C.

Orphan Sunday 2014

// Natalie McCormick on Tuesday October 21, 2014

One Day. One Voice. One Purpose. - Orphan Sunday 2014​

17.8 million
Estimated number of children without their mother or father

Nearly 400,000
Estimated number of children in foster care

23,000
Number of children that reach age 18 without ever finding a forever family

1
Number of caring adults it takes to make a life-changing difference for an orphan

On Nov. 2, 2014 organizations across America and beyond will celebrate Orphan Sunday.  On this day, you are asked to remember the crisis and reality of orphans all over the world, be it through song, a prayer, a meal or a special event.  Get involved with Orphan Sunday during National Adoption Month.  Below are some ways you can help.

  • Foster - Consider reaching out to a local agency that facilitates foster care.  Learn about the joy and challenges that come with fostering. 
  • Adopt - Find a quality adoption agency in your area and speak with adoptive families to learn more about the process.
  • Host an Event - Show a short video or offer a prayer for orphans during your church service.  Get your youth ministry involved by hosting  a lock-in on Orphan Sunday or have a 'Giving Tree' during Christmas with proceeds benefiting orphans worldwide.
  • Mentor - Consider mentoring a foster child or a young adult aging out of the system.  A caring, adult presence can make a great impact.
  • Become a Safe Family - This alternative to the foster system allows volunteers to provide temporary homes and support host families.
  • Form a Support Ministry - Form a group that aids foster and adoptive families in the area.  Volunteer to do yard work, give rides and even babysit.
  • Fundraise - Give personally or as a ministry.  Find organization in your area by visiting www.cafo.org
  • Church Culture - Create a welcome and hospitable environment for foster parents and adoptive families.  The 'intangibles' make all the difference for a family that is adapting to a new normal. 

For more information on how you can get involved with Orphan Sunday, visit www.orphansunday.org.

Sources: CAFONational Adoption DayOrphan Sunday

This material is for information only and is not intended to provide legal or professional advice. You are encouraged to consult with your own attorney or other expert consultants for a professional opinion specific to your situation. This information is only a general description of the available coverages and is not a contract. In an effort to keep your policy coverage affordable, the actual policy contains certain limitations and exclusion. Please refer to your insurance policy for the pertinent contract language and coverages. Some coverages and discounts are not available in all states. GuideOne welcomes all applications, without regard to religion, race, color, national origin, sex, handicap or familial status.

Natalie McCormick

Natalie McCormick

Natalie McCormick is the Marketing Coordinator for GuideOne Insurance where she manages the direct mail program and assists with content marketing. 

When she's not at work she enjoys playing volleyball as well as perusing the local farmer's market.  If you can't find her outside you may find her inside reading a good book or baking a new recipe.

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