California law requires all employers to maintain workers’ compensation insurance for their employees. This requirement generally extends to churches, as well.
Furthermore, work-related injuries in a church context are not as rare as you might think. For example, working on a mission project or repairing the church building can lead to injuries. Likewise, clerical church employees can develop carpal tunnel syndrome just as quickly as they can while working in the private sector.
As a result, churches should be aware of their workers’ compensation needs and which individuals these policies should cover. In most cases, churches may benefit from some persons and traditional church staff members or employees.
Defining Employees for the Purposes of Workers’ Compensation
California law defines “employee” very broadly, including “every person in the service of an employer under any appointment or contract of hire or apprenticeship, express or implied, oral or written, whether lawfully or unlawfully employed.” As a result, churches must determine which individuals fall within this definition, even if they are not actual church employees. For instance, members of the church’s leadership likely should be included in the workers’ compensation policy, even if they are not employees. Volunteers also may be included under this type of policy, as many churches rely on volunteers to keep various aspects of their churches running smoothly.
Likewise, some churches focus on classifying ministers and other workers as “independent contractors” for tax purposes rather than “employees. However, categorizing a worker for tax purposes generally does not exempt or excuse a church from covering that person on a workers’ compensation policy.
Workers’ Compensation is the Exclusive Remedy for Covered Employees
Since workers’ compensation is the exclusive remedy for covered persons who suffer injuries or illness while in service at the church, it can be highly beneficial to cover an increased number of individuals. Workers’ compensation coverage can help the church avoid lawsuits resulting from work-related injuries or illnesses that otherwise could expose the church to extensive liability. Expanding your workers’ compensation coverage could end up being financially advantageous for the church.
For example, a lawsuit could result if a volunteer is injured during a building improvement project or while performing janitorial services, and the church has no workers’ compensation policy that covers volunteers. In this situation, the church’s building insurance policy may or may not provide adequate coverage, which could avoid a lawsuit. However, if that coverage is exhausted, the church can be liable for the remaining costs of the injuries absent workers’ compensation coverage. In the case of a severe or permanent injury, these costs could be pretty high and have a substantial financial impact on a church.
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