Many churches have received ominous and unsolicited advertisements warning them to begin displaying workplace posters or face dire consequences. These advertisements have created considerable confusion and apprehension among church leaders. Are churches required to display posters? If so, which ones? And, what are the penalties for noncompliance?
This article is the fourth in a series that addresses the application of various poster requirements to churches under both federal and state law. In the previous three issues of Church Treasurer Alert! we addressed poster requirements under the following federal laws:
- Fair Labor Standards Act (the minimum wage and overtime law)
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other federal employment laws
- Employee Polygraph Protection Act
- Occupational Safety and Health Act
- Family Leave Act
- the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act.
In this edition of Church Treasurer Alert! we will address penalties for failing to display a required workplace poster, commercially available posters, and state poster requirements.
Penalties for Failing to Display a Required Federal Poster
Can pastors and church board members be sent to jail for failing to display a required poster? Can a church that fails to display a required federal poster be assessed a substantial fine or other penalty? Despite what you may have read in the fear-mongering advertisements you have received from private companies offering to sell you a poster that will enable your church to be "in compliance'" with the law, there are few penalties that can be assessed for failing to display a poster. And, the penalties that do exist are insignificant and rarely imposed.
The U.S. Department of Labor website contains the following information regarding penalties for failure to display workplace posters:
|Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA)||Any employer covered by the Act is subject to a "citation and penalty" for failing to display the required poster.|
|FLSA (overtime and minimum wage)||No citations or penalties for failure to post.|
|Family and Medical Leave Act||Willful refusal to post may result in a civil money penalty by the Wage and Hour Division not to exceed $100 for each separate offense.|
|Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA)||No citations or penalties for failure to notify. An individual could ask the Department of Labor to investigate and seek compliance, or file a private enforcement action to require the employer to provide the notice to employees.|
|Employee Polygraph Protection Act||The Secretary of Labor can bring court actions and assess civil penalties for failing to post.|
Failure to display a required poster may have consequences besides a fine or penalty. To illustrate, in order for an employee to sue an employer for violating federal discrimination laws, the employee generally must file a "charge" or complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 180 days from the date of the alleged violation (this deadline may be extended to 300 days if the complaint is covered by a state or local nondiscrimination laws). However, several courts have ruled that an employer's failure to display required workplace posters may extend the time that employees have to file discrimination claims, thereby exposing an employer to potential liability for a protracted period of time. This is a good reason to comply with applicable poster requirements, even if the monetary penalty that can be imposed for noncompliance is minimal.
Example. A church has 20 employees. It fails to display any workplace posters. An employee files a charge of age discrimination with the EEOC two years after the alleged act of discrimination occurred. The church claims that the claim is barred because it was filed more than 180 days after the alleged act of discrimination. The employee points out that the church failed to display the Department of Labor's "Equal Employment Opportunity Is the Law" workplace poster. This omission may have the effect of extending the employee's deadline for filing her discrimination complaint, since she could argue that she was not aware of her rights under the law and could not take advantage of them in a timely manner.
Key point. No reported court ruling addresses the imposition of fines or other penalties on a church for failure to display a required workplace poster. This does not suggest that churches should disregard poster requirements. Instead, it demonstrates that innocent failures to comply with poster requirements will not necessarily result in fines, penalties, or prison sentences, especially if a church begins to comply with those requirements.
Commercially Available Posters
Posters that claim to comply with federal employment laws are available from a number of vendors. Before purchasing one of them, note the following considerations:
- Many of these posters are expensive. Some cost as much as $150 or more for doing nothing more than reproducing the free Department of Labor posters on one large, laminated chart.
- Do not purchase a poster from any vendor that engages in fear tactics or intimidation.
- No commercially available poster that we have seen mentions the special exceptions and rules that apply to churches and clergy as noted in the previous three articles in this series. In addition, they often contain information about laws that do not apply to churches. As a result, such posters will often create confusion among church staff members.
Example. A church has five employees. The church treasurer receives an unsolicited ad warning of substantial fines and penalties for failure to display a workplace poster. The church pays $100 for the poster. The poster presents the same material that is available for free in Department of Labor posters. It includes the Equal Employment Opportunity Is the Law and Family Medical and Leave Act posters, neither of which applies to a church with only five employees.
Many states have their own poster requirements in addition to those mandated by federal law. For example, many states require that employers subject to the following laws post notices described by state law: (1) a state civil rights law; (2) a state minimum wage law; (3) unemployment compensation; and (4) workers compensation. Many states make these posters available free of charge. Also, note that the official posters often do not address the special rules or exemptions that may apply to churches and clergy. We recommend that church leaders contact a local attorney for an explanation of the poster requirements that apply under state or local law.
In summary, some or perhaps all of the poster requirements described in the four articles in this series may apply to a church, depending on the circumstances. Some churches display a "unified" poster containing the required language under each federal and state law, while others simply display applicable posters copied from federal and state agency websites. In either case, your posters should be accompanied by a notice (prepared by the church) to the effect that the posters do not take into account the special rules and exceptions that apply to churches and clergy.
Tip. Some churches display the applicable federal and state posters (obtained for free from government websites), and also post a conspicuous notice above or below the posters that cautions employees that the posters do not necessarily reflect the unique legal rules and exceptions that apply to churches and clergy.