What happens when your chapters hold in-person meetings—even after your association has made it clear that events should only be virtual because of COVID-19? A waiver might be a good idea.
There are plenty of opinions on the right amount of coordination—some might say control— between national associations and their chapters. COVID-19 has raised a new wrinkle.
In June, the national board of Mocha Moms, Inc.—“the premier voice and support group for mothers of color,” according to its website—issued a directive stating that its chapters were to stop holding in-person events until further notice to ensure member safety. Despite the notice, which referenced CDC’s explanation that the virus is transmitted from person to person through respiratory droplets, leadership became aware, through posts on social media, that some chapters were holding in-person events.
Mocha Moms’ general counsel, Manotti Jenkins, recommended that the organization issue a mandatory waiver to protect itself in case someone attended an unsanctioned Mocha Moms event, contracted the coronavirus, and brought a lawsuit against the organization. But does a waiver completely protect an organization from liability?
Generally speaking, no, according to attorney Jeffrey Tenenbaum of the Tenenbaum Law Group. Waivers “cannot hurt the association from a legal risk management perspective,” and requiring a waiver will likely help the organization, Tenenbaum wrote in a recent article. However, “waivers are regularly challenged and nullified by courts for a variety of reasons,” so it is not a good idea to rely on them as a “complete liability shield.”
Mocha Moms recently sent out the mandatory waiver to all members, reiterating the policy that all its events should be virtual only—not in person, even socially distanced—and requiring that members sign and return the online form by October 31. Members who have not signed the waiver by November 1 will be placed on probationary status and subject to removal by the national board—with no exceptions, the organization said.
The waiver states that, because of the national directive, “effective June 6, 2020, until further notice, Mocha Moms and its chapter, state, regional, and national leaders shall not be legally responsible in any way for the transmission of the COVID-19 virus alleged by anyone to have occurred during any in-person event or gathering of members of Mocha Moms, Inc.”
The waiver, Jenkins said, puts them in a position to win a lawsuit on a motion to dismiss if someone does file suit against them. “It’s prudent practice for organizations attempting to protect themselves from liability to do something like this,” he said.
In a video to members, Mocha Moms National President Kuae Mattox explained why enforcing virtual-only events is so important, referencing staggering statistics from the CDC about the losses the virus has caused to date—and daunting estimates for the near future. “We must keep our families and our children safe,” she said.