Churches don’t generally think of themselves as employers. But most are. In addition to a minister, they may employ a secretary, custodian, bookkeeper, music director, counselor, or business administrator. As an employer, is the church subject to the same legal obligations that apply to secular employers? Do you know what employer-employee issues are protected by the First Amendment guaranty of religious freedom, and which ones are not? Never has it been more important to know your church’s legal responsibility towards your employees than now. Why? Because employment related litigation is consistently one of the main reasons that churches end up in court.
Avoiding employment litigation begins with the selection of employees. Here’s a quick look at what you need to know about hiring new employees at your church:
New Hire Reporting —Employers, including churches, must report all new hires to a designated state agency. This agency then matches information against its own child support records to locate parents and enforce existing child support orders. Once these matches are done, the information is sent to the “National Directory of New Hires” so other states can compare the information with their own child support records. The information also will be shared with state welfare and unemployment agencies to root out unemployment benefits fraud.
Employment Eligibility Verification —Employers are required by law to confirm the identity of all new hires and their eligibility to work by completing an I-9 form. Churches are subject to this requirement. Unlike tax forms, I-9 forms are not filed with the U.S. government. Employers are required to maintain I-9 records in their own files for three years after the date of hire or one year after the date the employee’s employment is terminated, whichever is later. Federal agencies are authorized to request an inspection of your I-9 forms at any time. Typically, they will give employers several days’ notice to pull documents out of storage for inspection.
Immigration —Federal immigration law regulates the admission, status, and employability of foreign citizens in this country, and imposes requirements on employers who seek to hire immigrants. This is a growing issue in churches, and federal requirements generally apply to religious organizations.