Recent Developments

Issues that affect ministers and churches
Church Employee Fired After Raising Objections to Financial Policies
Court rules that woman can sue church for violation of public policy and emotional distress.

Key Point 8-22. In most states, employees who are hired for an indefinite period are considered "at will" employees. This means that the employment relationship may be terminated at will by either the employer or employee, with or without cause, and with or without notice. The courts and state legislatures have created a number of exceptions to the at will employment rule. These exceptions limit the right of an employer to terminate an at will employee. Employees who are hired for a specific term are not at will employees, and they may be terminated only if the employer has "good cause."

Key Point 8-25. Employers often evaluate some or all of their employees on a periodic basis. Such evaluations can help employees be more productive, but they also can be used as evidence of discrimination if an employee who is a member of a protected class under a state or federal employment law is terminated despite average or above-average evaluations.

A Connecticut court ruled that a church employee who was dismissed from employment could sue the church for violation of public policy and emotional distress, but not negligence or blacklisting. A church hired a woman (the "plaintiff") as the director of its school. She was employed in this position for six years. In her last annual performance evaluation the church rated her as satisfactory and did not provide any indication that it was unhappy with her job performance. Shortly after this performance evaluation was prepared, the plaintiff expressed an objection to the church's use of a tuition increase to make improvements to the church. She informed church leaders that it was improper for the church to tell the children's parents that the tuition increase would be utilized by the school when actually it was being used for the general use of the church. The church dismissed the plaintiff as an employee a few days after she raised her objection.

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