The Importance of a Staff Handbook for Churches

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Most churches have employees to help carry out their missions. Creating and maintaining an up-to-date employee handbook can be essential to help your church or religious organization carry out its ministry and protect it from time-consuming and expensive employment litigation. The more employees your organization employs, the more crucial the need for an employee handbook is, as your risk of employee-related disputes and problems is more significant than if you employ only a few people.

An employee handbook helps ensure that your employees know your ministry’s rules and procedures, particularly in terms of disciplinary action. However, the employee handbook also serves as proof that your church or ministry follows federal and state employment laws.

Religious Mission and Code of Conduct

Your employee handbook should clearly set forth your ministry’s mission statement and purpose. Suppose you expect your employees to adhere to a specific code of conduct or uphold certain principles of your religion. In that case, you need to make those expectations clear from the outset of the person’s employment. For example, you may want to provide a general statement that employees’ personal or work-related conduct that is inconsistent with the ministry’s mission may be grounds for termination.

Employment at Will

Many employees work under an employment contract, which governs the terms and conditions of their employment. However, in the absence of an employment contract, employees are “at will” employees, meaning that the ministry can decide to terminate employment for any reason not prohibited by law.

Therefore, all employee handbooks should stress that employment with the ministry or agency is “at will,” except for employees whose employment is subject to a valid employment contract. Employees who do not have legally enforceable employment contracts should have no expectation of continued employment.

Employee Benefits

Your employee handbook should contain a complete listing of all benefits available to employees if any. These benefits should include both optional and mandatory benefits, such as:

  • Vacation, sick, and personal time amounts and policies
  • Medical, dental, and vision insurance
  • Life insurance
  • Disability insurance and leave
  • Paid holidays
  • Bereavement leave
  • Retirement plans

EEOC and Nondiscrimination Policies

Employers must provide nondiscrimination information mandated by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). These policies concern illegal discrimination, workplace harassment, and whistleblower protections. However, unlike secular organizations, religious organizations generally can discriminate based on religion. As a result, they must be sure not to include protections that do not apply to religious entities that could cause them to waive statutory and constitutional protections inadvertently.

Electronic Communications

Your employee handbook should clearly spell out restrictions on using ministry-owned computers, phones, and communication devices, both onsite and remotely. Among the policies that you should address are:

  • Personal usage of ministry-owned electronic devices
  • Usage of personal cell phones, email, or social media accounts in the workplace or while on the clock
  • The ability of the ministry to monitor any activity or communications on ministry-owned devices
  • Behaviors that are considered abusive or violative of ministry policies that could result in disciplinary action, including termination of employment
  • Publication or posting of work-related information on personal social media accounts
  • Best practices for cybersecurity, both in the office and when accessing devices remotely

Hours and Pay

An employee handbook should contain specific provisions about expected working hours, overtime policies, and pay rates. This section also should follow applicable laws concerning breaks, including meal breaks. Finally, this section should differentiate between full-time and part-time employees, as well as which benefits are available to which employees.

Per Diem and Compensation for Expenses

Your employee handbook should detail what the ministry will pay for if an employee is traveling for work-related purposes, including mileage, meals, hotel charges, etc., as well as the rates and maximum charges for those expenses. In addition, the handbook should outline the procedures for an employee to claim those expenses.

Workplace Safety Procedures

The employee handbook also should contain a section dealing with workplace safety. Any COVID-19 procedures should be detailed in this section. The handbook should also outline any guidelines for visitors and volunteers. These precautions are essential for ministries that serve children in daycares, schools, or other religious programming.

We Are Here to Help You with Your Legal Issues

The attorneys and staff of Church Law Center focus on providing legal assistance to nonprofits, churches, and religious organizations. As federal and state laws continue to evolve rapidly in these areas, we pride ourselves on keeping up to date with these changes as they occur. Our goal is to help you prevent legal issues before they occur. Contact our offices today at (949) 245-3177 or online and schedule an appointment to speak with us about your case.

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