All California employers are required by law to provide workers’ compensation insurance to their workers. This requirement typically extends to members of the church’s leadership team as well, even if they are not employed by the church. Although a church’s work may not be especially risky when compared to other types of organization, the fact is that people who do work for a church can get injured on the job, or can develop work-related illnesses like carpal tunnel syndrome that can require expensive care. It’s important for church leaders to take stock of their workers’ compensation requirements from early on in a church’s organization. There are several things to bear in mind:
- Workers’ compensation is an exclusive remedy. Workers’ compensation offers a significant advantage to employers: in exchange for providing employees with insurance, employees who are injured on the job typically can’t sue their employers for personal injury claims arising out of their employment. So although it may appear to be an onerous expense at first, a workers’ compensation program in fact may save the church a significant sum in the long run.
- The definition of “employee.” California law has a broad definition of employee: “every person in the service of an employer under any appointment or contract of hire or apprenticeship, express or implied, orally or written, whether lawfully or unlawfully employed.” Churches can get into trouble thinking that someone is not an employee when in fact they qualify as one as a matter of law. It can be helpful to clearly define in writing the roles of individuals who contribute labor to the church, but even then problems can arise if church managers aren’t paying attention to how contributors are treated.
- Volunteers can be covered. Churches often rely on help from a variety of sources to keep their operations running smoothly. Volunteers typically are not “employees,” though they can be covered by workers’ compensation anyway in order to bring them under the umbrella of the exclusive remedy rule.
These ideas are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to workers’ compensation. Ultimately the goal of this sort of insurance is to help both the employer and employees manage their risks. It can be helpful to talk to an attorney about how all of these components come into play for a church’s specific situation.
The Church Law Center of California provides legal counsel to churches on matters of governance and risk management. We would be happy to discuss your church’s staffing strategies and how you can best protect your church against unnecessary liability. Call us today at (949) 689-0437 or through our contact page.