Which Federal Employment Laws Apply to Churches?

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Every church with employees needs to adopt clear policies and guidelines to ensure that its practices comply with labor laws, and there are a number of federal employment laws that do apply to religious organizations, including the following:

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Prohibits employers from discriminating against or harassing employees and potential employees on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, or national origin. Sex discrimination is not only bias against job candidates of a certain sex, but also bias based on pregnancy, childbirth, or childbirth-related conditions per the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Title VII applies only to churches with 15 or more employees. In addition, religious organizations are exempt from Section 702 of Title VII’s ban on religious discrimination.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration Act of 1970 (OSHA)

This Act is responsible for ensuring safe and healthy working conditions for employees and applies to churches with 15 or more employees.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Prohibits discrimination based upon disability and applies to churches with 15 or more employees.

Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA)

Provides for unpaid, job-protected leave for specific family and medical reasons. Applies to churches with 50 or more employees.

Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)

Prohibits discrimination based on age against people over the age of 40. Applies to churches with 20 or more employees.

Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA)

Also known as “Obamacare,” the ACA requires employers with a certain number of employees to provide nondiscriminatory healthcare benefits and applies to churches with 50 or more employees who can be categorized as “full time equivalents.” Under the ACA, a full time equivalent is an employee who works at least 30 hours/week.

Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

Establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, and other labor standards affecting all workers, including both full and part-time workers. The FLSA applies to two types of employees:

  1. Employees of covered “enterprises” — also known as “enterprise coverage” — which applies solely to activities that have a business purpose.
  2. Employees that are individually engaged in interstate commerce, also known as “individual coverage.”

The FSLA does not apply to churches that derive no financial benefit from commercial activity and do not have employees engaged in interstate commerce. Determining whether or not a church is covered by the FLSA depends on a number of factors, so making that determination should be done in conjunction with experienced legal counsel.

The Church Law Center of California advises churches and other nonprofits on how to protect themselves from risk while furthering their mission. Call us today at (949) 892-1221 or reach out to us through our contact page.

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