1. Follow Your Bylaws

Officials who are skilled in enforcing the rules of the game while officiating often don’t feel bound by any of the internal rules of their own association, otherwise known as constitutions or bylaws. That can lead to severe legal consequences. Officers of associations need to follow the bylaws at all times, especially when dealing in matters involving discipline or expulsion of members. Any association officer who fails to follow the bylaws in that area increases not only his or her association’s exposure to liability, but also will risk, in many cases, personal liability.

2. Don’t Keep Your Policies a Secret

Officials have a right to know what their association expects of them – and what will happen should those expectations not be met. Meeting and financial requirements, restrictions on members’ activities and policies and mechanics must be made available to all members.

3. Don’t Make Officials Employees of the Association

If you want to decrease your association’s exposure to liability, don’t hire members! Communicate to leagues, conferences and schools that officials will be supplied for game fees. Members must know that the association is not liable should anyone be injured.

4. Don’t Suspend a Member Automatically

Anytime an officials association officer uses the word “automatically” within five miles of the word “suspend” or “expel,” watch out! A member who you think may have violated your bylaws must be given notice of the violation and a chance to defend the charge. Some state laws have specific requirements for suspension or expulsion of association members. Wherever you live, your association should coordinate any disciplinary action with local counsel to make sure appropriate guidelines are observed.

5. Don’t Assume Incorporating Will Avoid Personal Liability

The commonly held belief that the officers and members of an organization need not be concerned with personal liability if the organization incorporates is a fallacy. Incorporation is often seen as an absolute shield against liability – which it is not.

6. Deal with Potential Claims By Seeking Professional Advice

An attempt to “do it yourself” in defending a claim (or potential claim) could have a number of serious legal consequences. Officers and directors of officials associations have a fiduciary responsibility to their associations and the members. Since they are entrusted with dues and other funds, officers are required to conserve assets by applying good business judgment. Consequently, officers must seek legal or accounting advice when a legal or accounting issue presents itself.

7. Keep Good Meeting Minutes

Without minutes, there is no official record of the action of the board or executive committee. As memories fade, the course an association decides to take may vary from meeting to meeting, with devastating legal results. And minutes should be taken correctly – include the action taken, rather than a replay of all discussion at the meeting.

8. Review Your Insurance Policies to Match the Risks Inherent in the Operation of Your Association

Officials associations conduct meetings and clinics, assign games, supervise officials, establish rating systems, engage personnel, develop mechanics and codes and hold tournaments. Any one of those activities can lead to a lawsuit. Only your insurance expert can tell you if your coverage matches what your association does.

9. Pretend That You Are Running a Business

Ever hear an association member say, “All we want to do is referee?” For most associations, the truth is, it’s not all you want to do – not by a long shot. You want to recruit; be officers, commissioners and assigners; discipline officials; establish ratings; set policies, regulations, and in some cases, officiating mechanics. In short, you want to determine your own fate. As in any business, each of those activities carries legal responsibilities that cannot be overlooked.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice.


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