Liability is a real threat to brokerage owners. Despite there not being legal requirements for real estate companies to offer independent contractors safety training, a policy that outlines safe work practices should be as important as ethics, marketing, and legal training for agents.
A recent lawsuit brought against Crye-Leike by the family of slain real estate agent Beverly Carter was dismissed because it wasn’t filed within the statute of limitations, not because the company wasn’t guilty of negligence, as the family claimed. Carter, who worked for Crye-Leike, was murdered while on the job, and the case against her brokerage never reached the point of a determination. This leaves the window open to similar challenges against brokerages in the future.
To that end, every real estate company needs a workplace safety policy.
A well-crafted office safety policy ensures that there are clearly stated rules and techniques for working safely. What’s more, a comprehensive, expert-led training program should be offered to your agents on a regular basis. Safety practices should also be reinforced year-round, not just once a year or during REALTOR® Safety Month in September.
According to John Mayfield, real estate broker, author, and speaker who’s known as “The Business Tech Guy,” a safety program shouldn’t be looked at as a one-time class. “Safety training is a continuous, ongoing educational piece that all of us should embrace annually,” he says. “By approaching safety from this viewpoint, brokers and agents will constantly be reminded of how important safety is to our industry.”
Agents oblivious to the potential dangers in this business who are then victimized could make a case that their brokerage failed to provide effective safety training. But what can a real estate company require of its agents who are independent contractors? “Their licenses require brokers to supervise their agents,” says Finley Maxson, senior counsel for the National Association of REALTORS®. “Therefore, they can and should provide safety resources to their agents, such as safe places to meet new clients and making safety resources available.”
In the event a brokerage is sued, Maxson says, the independent contractor status will more than likely be the defense a real estate company can use for not requiring safety training. However, that doesn’t mean brokers can’t be subject to a lawsuit.
Safety starts at the top. Leadership should be part of any safety training their agents receive. Roxie Glenn, director of professional development at the MetroTex Association of REALTORS® in northern Texas, says she aims to deliver resources and support for brokers and managers to use when stressing the importance of safety to their agents. She has scheduled a safety training for agents and a workshop for brokerage leadership that will cover how to implement an office safety policy and create a safety policy manual.
Scheduling training around your agents is also important. Mayfield says offering online training will encourage more agents to attend a class. However, he stresses that all trainings must be interactive and led by a subject matter expert to keep it fresh and relevant.
Safety is core to the business of selling houses and working with the public. I advise broker-owners to implement an office safety policy that all agents are required to acknowledge. This doesn’t necessarily require them to participate in safety training since they’re independent contractors, but signing a document of acknowledgement shows that safety has been discussed and training is strongly recommended.
The policy should be a formal part of onboarding new agents, and those who complete the training should be issued a certificate and be required to sign an acknowledgement form.
Safety training shouldn’t be simply about avoiding liability; it should be about doing the right thing for your agents. Broker-owners and managers can start out by attending a safety training themselves to understand what their agents should know about working safely. This will help motivate you to create a safety policy and make safety education part of your office culture.