Associations are trying to be thoughtful about policies for in-person events as they start anew. Here are a few strategies organizations are using.
In February 2020, few meeting planners were thinking about things like tracking proof of vaccination. But as associations tiptoe back into face-to-face gatherings, planners are having to address questions about policies that will make the return safe for all. Read on for a few approaches organizations are using to firm up their policies ahead of their in-person meetings.
Duty of Care Statements
Some associations are creating a duty of care statement, which lays out an association’s legal obligations to members.This policy approach is formal in nature, and clearly defines what an association will do for its members.
One example of this kind of document comes from the American Association of Airport Executives, which built a duty of care statement for its July 2021 annual meeting.The statement breaks down AAAE’s plan to ensure the organization will do what it can to take care of attendees, while making it clear that this responsibility is shared with attendees:
However, the responsibility for a safe and healthy event environment is shared among the event organizers, event venues, and event attendees. Towards this end, all conference attendees are expected to also comply with all applicable requirements imposed by federal, state, or local health authorities for the locality in which the conference is taking place, and in addition to our code of conduct, they are expected to adhere to and abide by the safety precautions AAAE has implemented to protect against the spread of COVID-19 such as social distancing where applicable, wearing a digital contact tracing device, personal hygiene and hand sanitization, self-monitoring and self-reporting.
Health and Safety Protocols
Other associations lean on a less formal approach to pandemic planning, gathering basic safety and health protocols that set expectations for attendees and the association alike.
Tom Morrison, CEO of the Metal Treating Institute, says that the association has taken an approach that is framed by the idea that COVID-19 may never truly disappear.
“We have to learn to live, interact, and meet as COVID exists in a way that is comfortable for those people who are comfortable meeting in person, while providing virtual opportunities for members who choose not to attend,” Morrison tells Associations Now via email. ”As we always say, ‘You have to meet your members where they are.’”
Reflecting this philosophy, the association and its board built a safety and wellness protocol that sets base guidelines for its events, including daily temperature checks (tracked by wristbands), spread-out seating, and mask rules for food service employees. Attendees are not required to wear masks, but they’ve been made available as desired.
Morrison says that the goal of the policies is to heighten the comfort level for attending in person while minimizing risks from COVID-19.
“So far we have hosted four meetings in 2021 without incident and have seen an excitement among members that our meetings are back,” he adds.
One other approach to consider as hybrid events ramp up is a waiver for COVID-19 that legally protects the organization while giving attendees the opportunity to meet in person.
The Western Arts Alliance returned to in-person events with its annual meeting last month, which featured a hybrid element. WAA used a variety of tactics to manage COVID-19 risk, one of which involved a liability waiver stating that attendees agreed to assume the risk of exposure by attending an in-person event.
The association’s executive director, Tim Wilson, tells Associations Now via email that the waiver was just one arm of WAA’s approach to the pandemic, which was ramped up given the Delta variant’s increased virality. Wilson noted that attendees were required to be vaccinated, and that masks were required during the event.
After the event, the association asked attendees to report any signs of exposure (none have been received as of press time). “The board and staff approached the event prepared to do anything we could to protect our attendees, staff, volunteers, and hotel personnel—as well as the organization,” Wilson says.
The association made other adjustments, including limiting indoor capacity and allowing those who no longer wanted to attend in person to switch to the virtual event, no questions asked, with a partial refund to cover the cost differences between the two.
“In our view, having a liability waiver was just part of that package. It let attendees know that we, as the organizer, recognized the risk in participating,” Wilson says. “And while we understand that it can be difficult to enforce a liability waiver, often, the act of simply signing one can be enough to deter a claim.”
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