Protect your association from liability with procedures to ensure your information is accurate, trainers are insured, and laws are followed.
Brokers and REALTOR® associations across the country are implementing new and updated safety procedures to ensure that their sales teams, staff, and members stay as safe as possible. As AEs and others in the industry work to strengthen safety practices and give advice to members, keep in mind these considerations to avoid potential exposure to litigation or other legal hassles:
Weapons in the Office
Before implementing any weapons-related association policy or offering members advice regarding weapons safety, note that state laws vary widely in regard to firearms and “nonlethal” weapons such as Mace, pepper spray, and stun guns. Consult your local counsel to ensure that you are conforming with and appropriately citing all applicable laws.
Also, keep in mind that the choice to arm oneself is personal. Carrying any weapon may be contradictory to an individual’s religious or personal beliefs, or may simply be outside of his or her acceptable zone of comfort. Therefore, avoid establishing any policy that would require anyone to carry a weapon. Similarly, offering any monetary or other incentives to carry a weapon should be avoided.
Any business wishing to maintain a gun-free workplace should consider posting a conspicuous notice making clear that firearms are not permitted on the premises. Be aware, however, that some states prohibit employers from banning lawfully owned weapons from the periphery of a workplace, such as in employees’ securely locked cars in office parking lots. AEs may wish to consider implementing a weapons-free policy for board meetings and any meetings open to general membership or the public.
Associations and other businesses may consider bringing in an expert to present safety tips or hands-on self-defense training (see safety training, p. 12). If you choose to offer this kind of program, make sure that it can be adequately modified for individuals with special needs. Talk to the safety specialist beforehand to ensure that the program will accommodate everyone on your team.
Your safety specialist also must be properly qualified and insured for the kind of training you are offering. It’s also a good idea to have your attorney review the engagement contract prior to execution. As an extra layer of legal protection, have participants sign a waiver before participating in any safety training that involves physical activity, especially those involving weapons orientation or self-defense tactics.
Safety Products and Vendors
Associations may also wish to bring certain safety devices or products to the attention of their members. When doing so, AEs should consider vetting any products or vendors for reliability, legitimacy, and safety. Official “endorsements” by associations may present legal pitfalls if these products later prove to be unreliable or otherwise faulty. In presenting any safety product options, associations should consider including a disclaimer that it does not endorse the products and should work with local counsel to draft appropriate disclaimer language. In no case should any safety product be branded with any REALTOR® or REALTOR® association trademark.
Client Identification Policies
An excellent safety practice for real estate salespeople is to meet with new clients at their office before a showing request to see a valid ID and make a physical or electronic copy of it. In addition, it is a good practice to ensure that a colleague is aware of the details of the showing, including the client’s ID, and the time the agent expects to be back in the office. If you decide to encourage your members to follow this procedure, be sure to emphasize that any personal information taken from clients should be kept private and secure and destroyed as soon as practicable. Also, if agents are requesting IDs from one new client, they should request IDs from every new client.
It is not recommended, for liability reasons, that associations offer their office or building space to members to conduct these meetings. The next best alternative is a public space, such as a coffee shop.
Safety at Conventions
Although the industry has been particularly focused on real estate agent safety during showings or open houses, association staff and members may also find themselves in vulnerable situations when attending conferences and conventions. The combination of unfamiliar surroundings, large groups of strangers, disrupted patterns, and, in some cases, social gatherings involving the consumption of alcohol may create potentially dangerous circumstances for attendees. Prior to any conference or similar event, AEs should consider reviewing association policies and practical safety measures with any staff that will be attending. NAR offers resources on nar.realtor/safety geared specifically toward ensuring attendee safety at conferences and conventions.
Employee Manuals and Resources
Every association’s employee manual should address employment safety. If you feel that your current employee manual is lacking in this area, NAR offers the Sample Employee Manual for Association Executives, available for download at the nar.realtor online store.
Become familiar with NAR’s broad range of safety-related information for associations and members, including educational materials and other resources to help hone effective safety practices. These materials are available at nar.realtor/safety.
Jessica Edgerton is an associate counsel at the National Association of REALTORS®. Contact her at 312-329-8373 or email@example.com.