Why Is Employment Law Important For Churches?
Employees are a company’s greatest asset—they’re your competitive advantage. You want to attract and retain the best; provide them with encouragement, stimulus, and make them feel that they are an integral part of the company’s mission.
Anne M. Mulcahy
You may not have thought about it this way, but your church and other religious organizations are businesses. And leaders of these organizations are responsible for complying with both state and federal business and employment law.
I have heard too many people say, “Well, I run a non-profit, so employment law doesn’t apply to me,” or “My organization is tax-exempt, so I don’t have to worry about any laws, right?” WRONG!!! Non-profits, tax-exempt organizations, churches, and any other organization that has employees must follow state and federal employment guidelines.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. What does that mean for your church? It means that you cannot discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin in your hiring practices, your disciplinary practices, or the termination of employees. In addition, the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA) makes it illegal to pay different wages to men and women if they perform equal work in the same workplace. The Age Discrimination in Employment Acts of 1967 (ADEA) protect people who are 40 years of age or older from discrimination on the basis of age. And Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) makes it illegal to discriminate against any qualified person with a disability in the private sector and in state and local governments.
In addition to anti-discrimination laws, your church must be mindful of and comply with federal and state labor laws. The United States Department of Labor enforces the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which sets basic minimum wage and overtime pay standards. For covered employees who are not otherwise exempt, it requires employers to pay at least the federal minimum wage, and overtime pay of one-and-one-half times the regular rate of pay. For nonagricultural operations, it restricts the hours that children under age 16 can work and forbids the employment of children under age 18 in certain jobs that are deemed too dangerous.
How To Lawfully Hire Employees:
But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”
1 Samuel 16:7
Just like it does for any other business, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits a church from engaging in employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. Additionally, Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) prohibits discrimination based on disability and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) prohibits discrimination based on age.
What does this mean? It means that as an employer, you cannot base a decision not to hire a candidate for a job on the fact that they were born in another country, are of a different race or ethnicity than you prefer, or are male or female. Refusing to hire someone solely because they are over the age of 40 is also prohibited.
The ADA requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodation to qualified individuals with disabilities who are employees or applicants for employment, unless doing so would cause undue hardship. What constitutes a reasonable accommodation? “In general, an accommodation is any change in the work environment or in the way things are customarily done that enables an individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities.”
There are three categories of “reasonable accommodations”:
Discipline And Termination:
A good job is more than just a paycheck. A good job fosters independence and discipline, and contributes to the health of the community. A good job is a means to provide for the health and welfare of your family, to own a home, and save for retirement.
James H. Douglas
The majority of states have adopted an at-will employment policy, which means that an employer can terminate an employee for any reason, at any time, so long as it is not discriminatory, retaliatory, and does not violate an employee’s legal rights, for example with regard to family or medical leave, military leave, time off to vote, or jury service.
As explained in the previous chapter, Title VII protects employees from discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. There are also a number of whistleblower protection acts that make it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against or discharge an employee because he or she engaged in certain activities that are protected by law, such as reporting violations of workplace safety, environmental safety, Medicare fraud, food safety, or securities laws to name a few.
Although you as an employer can terminate an employee for any reason or for no reason at all, it is highly recommended that you document any and all performance issues. Performance issues could include
Start with good people, lay out the rules, communicate with your employees, motivate them and reward them. If you do all those things effectively, you can’t miss.
The Contractor v. the Employee
When hiring individuals to work for your church, it is important to make sure that you properly classify them either as employees or as independent contractors. I have heard churches and small business owners say many times that they choose to call everybody an independent contractor because it is just easier that way. They believe that this means they don’t have to worry about payroll, paying taxes, or setting up insurance… WRONG!! Misclassifying employees is one of the quickest ways to set your church up for a wage and hour lawsuit.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) uses three characteristics to determine whether the relationship between businesses and workers is an employer/employee relationship or an independent contractor relationship: behavioral control, financial control, and type of relationship.
If the worker receives extensive instructions regarding how the work is to be performed, such as when the work should be done, where to buy supplies, what equipment to use, or training on how to perform the job, this indicates that the worker is an employee.
Independent contractors tend to have a significant financial investment in their own work. In other words, they spend the money to buy the tools or supplies they use, they may carry a specific license, and they generally are not reimbursed for business-related expenses.
Type of Relationship:
Lastly, the IRS evaluates the relationship between the parties. If the worker is covered by the employer’s insurance plan, has a pension, or receives paid leave, he or she is likely an employee. Independent contractors are generally hired on a per-project basis or for a set duration of time. Employees, on the other hand, generally have no set end date for their services.