Employment Practices – Part 1

A New York court ruled that a church did not violate a state labor law prohibiting employers from discriminating against employees because of their lawful “recreational activities.”

Church Law and Tax 2002-09-01

Employment Practices

Key point 8-13. Many states have enacted laws prohibiting employers from disciplining employees for using lawful products (such as tobacco) during non-working hours. Some of these laws exempt religious organizations.

* A New York court ruled that a church did not violate a state labor law prohibiting employers from discriminating against employees because of their lawful "recreational activities" when it dismissed a female employee for living with a man who was married to another woman. The former employee claimed that her dismissal violated a provision in the New York Labor Law specifying that "it shall be unlawful for any employer to refuse to hire … or to discharge from employment or otherwise discriminate against an individual in compensation, promotion or terms, conditions or privileges of employment because of … an individual’s legal recreational activities outside work hours, off of the employer’s premises and without use of the employer’s equipment or other property." The law defines "recreational activities" as "any lawful, leisure-time activity, for which the employee receives no compensation and which is generally engaged in for recreational purposes, including but not limited to sports, games, hobbies, exercise, reading and the viewing of television, movies and similar material." The court concluded that the woman’s conduct "did not constitute a recreational activity" within the meaning of the law.

Application. Several states have laws prohibiting discrimination by employers against employees for engaging in recreational activities or consuming lawful products (such as alcohol or tobacco). Some of these laws exempt religious organizations. Even without such an exemption, it is unlikely that most courts would apply such a law to the relationship between a church and a pastor. Bilquin v. Roman Catholic Church, 729 N.Y.S.2d 519 (2001).

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