COVID-19 Questions & AnswersFaith
With provinces across Canada gradually easing restrictions on COVID-19 bans on public gatherings, events and closures of non-essential workplace premises, the leaders of charities across Canada are looking for direction from governments, lawyers and their insurance providers to do so safely. Our office has seen a rise in questions from our church, school, camp, mission and other charity client organizations and we’re pleased to provide the following Q & A for the eight (8) most commonly asked questions.
1. Our organization operates a food bank and/or provides meals to those in need in our community, or we would like to begin to do so during COVID-19. How do we do this safely and is it insured?
Answer: For restaurants open during the pandemic, the emphasis has been on takeout and delivery utilizing a “no contact” guarantee from the time food comes from the oven or packaging, until the time it is in the hands of the consumer. Likewise, any non-profit organizations providing such services will also need to guarantee a touchless food distribution process, including the use of masks and gloves worn by workers and volunteers. You should also consider wherever possible to follow the example of commercial stores in having customers pull up to a parking spot and have food delivered into an open trunk. For meals provided onsite, avoid open food buffet lines. Instead, provide prepackaged sealed meals for pickup. For sit-down meals subject to minimum social distancing, provide prepackaged utensils and plates and ensure that servers must wear facemasks and gloves. It is also important all times to ensure you are operating strictly in accordance with your provincial government requirements and local public health agency guidelines, including obtaining specific permission based on your program particulars, and to keep checking with your health agency to keep up to date with any changing standards or requirements. Regarding insurance protection, your General Liability policy does contain “Products and Completed Operations” coverage, which includes protection for any insurable legal liability against your organization arising out of your products, including food and beverages.
2. When non-essential workplace restrictions are eased, can our church or charity allow outside user groups to resume meetings?
Answer: Just because your organization is allowed to resume operations on premises, subject to any applicable government or health agency requirements regarding social distancing and interaction, does not mean that you should automatically allow outside user groups on your premises. The reason is two-fold; firstly, because that group’s activity may not be allowable or advisable unless they can provide you with written evidence that their activity meets government authority guidelines; and secondly, an outside group’s members and health conditions are unknown to your organization and they may be responsible for the transmission of the virus between their attendees on your premises, including viral residue left on surfaces that may affect the health of your staff, members and attendees. If the outside user group has provided you with proof that their activity is allowable, it will be more important than ever to collect proof of their liability insurance coverage, including being named as additional insured on their policy, to avoid your organization and its directors becoming legal liable for their negligence in viral transmission. Please also ensure that your custodian cleans all surfaces in the space where the user group has met, including meeting rooms, kitchens, washrooms, fellowship halls, gymnasiums and auditoriums. Avoid allowing use of facilities when you are operating your own programs or ministries at the same time, or use by multiple outside groups at the same time, where there may be groups or individuals using the same entrances, washrooms or other spaces. The use of your facility space should be exclusive to your own programs and events, or to one user group at a time.
3. Is “Drive-In” Church an option for our weekly services?
Answer: As has been demonstrated by churches in Canada and the United States over the past weeks, conducting church services outdoors has been a viable option to indoor worship. Each outdoor venue is different, including the size of parking lots, how the service is staged, and how the audio portion is transmitted to attendees. Assuming your church has met provincial government requirements and local public health agency guidelines, including social distancing between vehicles/families in parking lots, during collection of tithes and offerings (preferably online or in a drop box) and with respect to providing public washroom facilities, this is an acceptable option.
4. Our premises is currently unused or underutilized during the current lockdown or restrictions. We have received a request from a local hospital, medical clinic, social agency, or other not-for-profit organization or business providing essential services, to rent or use our facility for COVID-19 related activities including testing, triaging, storage, or for quarantine space. Is this acceptable from an insurance standpoint?
Answer: We’ve heard from a number of our church and charity clients regarding this type of usage, including some great opportunities to meet the needs of a community. Although it can be acceptable, there are three important factors to consider, prior to approving this. Firstly, the outside agency or business must provide you with proof of liability coverage including professional liability from their insurance provider, including naming your organization as additional insured. Secondly, if individuals suspected of being infected will be onsite, you need to ensure that any other building use by your organization will be strictly segregated from any contact with the outside organization’s usage, including restricted interior access, separate entrances and separate parking. Thirdly, you need to have assurances from the outside organization that they will take care of the cost to have the rented or used space professionally cleaned and decontaminated on an ongoing periodic basis, and after they vacate your premises.
5. Our organization has suffered a loss of tithes, offerings, donations or rental income due to the COVID-19 ban on public gatherings, and shut-down of non-essential workplaces. Is this insurable?
Answer: Commercial and institutional insurance policies often include what is known as Business Interruption coverage. If your organization has Property coverage included in your policy (i.e. for buildings and/or contents) through Robertson Hall, then your policy will also contain a provision for Loss of Revenue and Additional Expenses. However, Business Interruption covers only reductions in income or additional expenses caused by direct physical loss of, or damage to, insured property at the premises described in your policy. This is standard in all Business Interruption wordings. For example, direct physical loss or damage includes occurrences such as a fire, flood, windstorm, vandalism or other insurable peril at your premises. If it results in your building needing to be rebuilt or to be substantially repaired, and as a consequence rendered unusable for a period of time, then the loss of income from not being able to operate or the extra expenses to operate elsewhere, are covered. A general civil authority order for closure due to pandemic is not an insurable peril or claim.
6. When we do re-open our programs, ministries and events, are we covered if someone catches coronavirus at our premises, or during off-premises sponsored activities?
Answer: Currently your general liability insurance policy does not include an exclusion for the unintended transmission of disease, including coronavirus. Therefore, assuming you are operating in accordance with your provincial government requirements and local public health agency guidelines, your organization and directors will have coverage for actual or alleged liability claims by third parties who claim that they acquired the virus due to your organization’s negligence. However, and although it is speculation at this point, in light of the COVID-19 worldwide pandemic there is a real possibility that by the end of 2020 we will see Infectious Disease Transmission Exclusions added to liability policies issued by insurance companies in North America and elsewhere.
7. We’ve always paid our insurance premiums in one lump sum at renewal time. However with the ban on public gatherings and closure of non-essential workplace premises, it has affected our budget. Are there any payment options this year?
Answer: To provide payment flexibility, we’ve been sending advance renewal notifications this year with various payment options, including an extended monthly payment plan option. For your convenience this notice includes a partially completed payment plan authorization form and quote. If you wish to take advantage of the extended payment option, please sign the form and return it to our office prior to the renewal date, along with the down payment amount indicated and sample void cheque for the bank account from which the monthly payments are to be withdrawn. Thank you.
8. We noticed that our most recent insurance policy through Robertson Hall Insurance now has two insurance companies shown on the invoice and Subscription Schedule in our renewal document. Why?
Answer: Unrelated to COVID-19, the property casualty insurance industry in North America and elsewhere has been undergoing hardening market conditions since 2019, resulting in premium rate increases, decreased coverage scope, reduced insurer capacity, and in some cases, non-renewal. In order to address this, Robertson Hall proactively engaged an additional insurance underwriter to ensure that all of our church and charity clients would have access to the same level of property and liability protection as they have always enjoyed. The new insurer, HDI Global Specialty SE, is a member company of the Hannover Reinsurance Group, the third largest reinsurance group in the world. It is vitally important to us that your insurance program is underwritten by underwriters who have the financial stability and capacity to pay large claims, when our client organizations need it most!
DISCLAIMER: The information provided in this notice is for general information purposes only. For more specific information about your insurance coverage, please refer to your full policy wordings, or contact our office. With respect to specific legal requirements and guidelines regarding potential programs, ministries and events, on or off premises, please check with your provincial ministry of health and your local public health agency.
Kenneth A. Hall, President
Kenneth A. Hall, B.A. (Hons), R.F. is the President of Robertson Hall Insurance Inc. Ken specializes in customized insurance and risk management advise for over 7,000 churches and charities across Canda with the Church and Charity Protection Plus program. To find out more about Ken and the team click here. To find out more about Church and Charity Protection Plus click here.