Pastor, Church & Law

Employment Law

Chapter 8

The employer-employee relationship is heavily regulated by state and federal law. For example, employers must withhold federal income taxes and Social Security taxes from wages paid to employees; pay unemployment taxes, obtain workers compensation insurance, refrain from numerous forms of discrimination in the selection and retention of employees, pay the minimum wage and overtime compensation, and comply with federal immigration requirements in the hiring of new employees. In addition, employers may be sued for violating non-discrimination laws or for wrongfully dismissing employees.

Do any of these legal obligations apply to churches? After all, most churches are employers. In addition to a minister, they may employ a secretary, custodian, bookkeeper, music director, counselor, or business administrator. As an employer, is a church subject to the same legal obligations that apply to secular employers? That is the question addressed in this book. Unfortunately, there is no simple answer. Federal immigration reporting requirements clearly apply to church employers. And many states treat churches no differently than secular employers for purposes of workers compensation. This means that they may have to obtain insurance to provide payments to injured employees.

On the other hand, there is much confusion concerning the application of various federal, state, and municipal laws that prohibit discrimination in employment on the basis specified grounds which often include race, color, national origin, gender, religion, pregnancy, age, disability, marital status, military status, sexual orientation, and sexual identity. Do such nondiscrimination laws apply lay employees and ministers employed by a church? May churches require employees to abide by biblical standards of morality? These questions, along with several others, are addressed in this fifth edition of Pastor, Church & Law.

The increasingly regulatory character of government is seen nowhere more clearly than in the context of the employer-employee relationship. Churches must be aware that some of the laws that pertain to this relationship may apply to them, and that First Amendment’s guaranty of religious freedom may not provide any protection.

The importance of employment laws and regulations to churches is underscored by surveys conducted each year by Richard Hammar of all published litigation in all federal courts and in all state appellate courts. The important thing to note is that employment-related litigation is consistently one of the main reasons that churches wind up in court. This dramatically demonstrates the importance of this book.

Finally, note that several employment-related topics are addressed in other books written by Richard Hammar. Table 8-1 lists several of these, along with a reference to the books where these topics are addressed.

This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is sold with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations." Due to the nature of the U.S. legal system, laws and regulations constantly change. The editors encourage readers to carefully search the site for all content related to the topic of interest and consult qualified local counsel to verify the status of specific statutes, laws, regulations, and precedential court holdings.

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