Employment Laws | Why They Matter to a Church

Although churches and other religious organizations are not thought of as businesses, they still need to think about employment legal matters. Employment laws come into play when hiring employees, classifying employees, compensating employees, terminating employees, engaging private contractors, establishing payroll, and even recruiting volunteers. There is one absolute certainty in employment law – every employee of every organization will one day be a former employee, whether it is by retirement, resignation, termination, disability, or death. Employment laws are important to consider because awareness and understanding of these laws can protect your organization from legal pitfalls down the road.

Why a Church Should be Aware of Employment Laws
Employment liability is one of the major legal issues that churches face today, and unfortunately there are an ever-growing number of church employment lawsuits. Employment laws can be complicated, and it may be difficult to understand how they are applied to a religious organization. This is why it is important to consult with a skilled church lawyer who focuses on the legal needs of churches, ministries, and other religious organizations.

There are many misconceptions regarding how employment laws are applied to religious organizations. Some may feel that they have a small number of employees, so the laws will not apply to their organization, or that the few individuals they employ are good friends, so there will never be a lawsuit. Without ensuring your church is properly protected, however, your organization will be vulnerable if an accident occurs, or if a lawsuit is ever filed for any reason. It is never a good idea to assume a legal issue will never come up, so planning ahead to protect your organization is always the best course of action.

Why Should You Call an Attorney?
There are specific state and federal employment laws, and it is best to know how they impact your particular organization. A church attorney will be familiar with these laws and how they specifically apply to your church, ministry, or other religious organization. The Church Law Group of Anthony | Kennedy, PLLC, focuses specifically on legal issues affecting nonprofit organizations, including churches, ministries, and other religious organizations, and can thus give you valuable advice and help you avoid potential employment related issues in the future. Prevention is far less costly than dealing with expensive, time-consuming lawsuits down the road. Do not hesitate to make sure things are done right. Planning correctly and putting protocols in place from the beginning, can help your organization avoid mistakes that can become a major headache later on. Call our office today and speak with one of our church lawyers to learn more about how we can help you and your organization.

Black and white church building

A church, like any organization, will require structure and a way to manage its creation and operation. This is accomplished primarily through its governing documents. Governing documents typically consist of an organization’s certificate of formation (or “articles of incorporation”) that explain how the organization is formed and its bylaws which outline the rules of how the organization operates. These documents represent the fundamental legal definition of the organization as well as its mission, organizational authority, accountability, and purpose. It is no surprise that a great deal of thought and planning will need to go into the initial creation of these documents, as well as the continued upkeep required to meet the organization’s growing needs and to ensure compliance with the rules and regulations that it is subject to. If not, mistakes can negatively impact the organization as a whole.

Rewriting or Revising Governing Documents

As with any legal document, an organization’s governing documents need to be reviewed regularly and updated as needed. How old are your bylaws? Do they still reflect the way the organization is being operated and managed? If they are old or outdated, then it is more likely they will need to be revised. This is where legal planning for your church or nonprofit comes into play. A skilled church lawyer who concentrates their legal practice in religious nonprofit and church law, will know the law of your state and will be able to advise you on any changes to the organization’s governing document(s) that may need to be made.

Why you Should Hire a Lawyer for Churches

It is important to remember that, while many different firms have attorneys that can help you write and revise your organization’s governing documents, most of these attorneys will not be as familiar with the laws specifically applicable to churches and religious organizations. For this reason, it is best to hire an attorney who concentrates their legal practice in this area of law. The Church Law Group of Anthony | Kennedy, PLLC, specifically focuses on the legal needs of nonprofit organizations, including churches, ministries, and other religious organizations.

A skilled attorney in this area of law can not only help you create or revise your governing documents as needed but can also help your organization effectively plan for the future. Your lawyer will know what types of issues are common with governing documents and will be able to advise you on ways to prevent problems from arising in the future.

Our team of church lawyers has extensive experience in helping churches and nonprofit organizations of all types and sizes. Most importantly, we can help your church, ministry, or other nonprofit organization avoid many of the pitfalls and headaches that can seriously harm your organization. With our experienced team of church lawyers, we can help you learn from mistakes others have made and help you avoid them in your own governing documents. Let us show you how by contacting our office today!


By Samantha Burns and Matt Anthony

Current Status of the ETS

The Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) was published in the Federal Register on November 5, 2021 (effective date). On November 6, 2021, the Fifth Circuit Court issued a Stay Order blocking the enforcement and implementation of the ETS. On December 17, 2021, the Sixth Circuit Court lifted the Stay, meaning that employers will have to comply with the ETS unless the Supreme Court rules otherwise. The Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments on January 7, 2022. As the High Court will not decide whether to block the directive until after the arguments are heard, the ETS remains in effect at this time. We cannot predict how the Supreme Court will rule on this matter, so employers subject to the OSHA ETS should prepare to comply with the standard.

Update: Following the initial posting of this article, the Supreme Court issued a ruling that effectively blocked OSHA’s COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing ETS. Therefore, employers will not be required to comply with any vaccine or testing requirements set forth in the ETS. Although employers are no longer required to comply with this ETS, we still encourage all employers to continue reading this post for helpful information regarding the general requirements of Religious Organizations to comply with OSHA regulations. Also, for any employers who are still interested in developing a vaccine or testing policy, this post includes links to some Policy Templates that may be used as a starting point for drafting such a policy.

Current Deadlines for Employer Compliance 

Per OSHA, employers currently have until January 10 to develop compliance policies and until February 9 to begin complying with the standard’s testing requirements. While employers should prepare to meet these current deadlines, with litigation still pending, it is possible that the compliance dates of the ETS could change. Therefore, employers are encouraged to visit OSHA’s COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing ETS webpage for additional updates.


General Applicability
OSHA has two regulatory functions: setting standards and conducting inspections to ensure that employers are providing safe and healthful workplaces.  Employers must become familiar with the standards applicable to their workplaces and eliminate hazards. In general, the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (“Act”) covers all employers and their employees in all fifty states.  Any employer who employs one or more employees is considered an “employer engaged in a business affecting commerce who has employees” and is thus covered under the Act. See 29 C.F.R. #1975.4(a).

Applicability to Churches and Religious Organizations
Churches are not exempt from OSHA regulations. Churches or religious organizations are considered employers under the Act where they employ one of more persons in secular activities. While churches are not specifically exempted under the Act, OSHA regulations treat churches as a special case. In dealing with Religious Organizations as Employers, OSHA distinguishes between religious activities and secular activities when determining whether to enforce requirements.

As a matter of Enforcement, OSHA will not regard “the performance of, or participation in, religious services” as employment under the Act. Persons regarded as non-employees under the Act will not be covered by OSHA. Although purely religious activities do not fall within the scope of the Act, if a Church ventures beyond purely spiritual pursuits, it will be subject to OSHA requirements when persons are regarded as employees under the Act and are thus covered by OSHA. The regulations provide some clear examples of coverage and noncoverage of religious organizations as employers:

Cases of Noncoverage:

Cases of Coverage:


General Compliance with OSHA Standards
While there are distinctions within a religious organization as to who is covered by OSHA and who is not, a church should always follow the basic principle of maintaining a safe and hazard free working environment.  It is important that all churches review OSHA guidelines and voluntarily comply with them. 

Compliance with OSHA’s COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing; Emergency Temporary Standard
The COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing ETS establishes binding requirements to protect unvaccinated employees of large employers (100 or more employees) from the risk of contracting COVID-19 in the workplace. It is important that all churches review OSHA guidelines for and make a good faith effort to comply with them. The Church can begin by visiting the various links provided by OSHA below:

The requirements set forth by the ETS are limited to employers with 100 or more employees at any time this ETS is in effect. All individuals who are “employees” under OSHA are counted in the total number when determining whether an employer meets the Minimum “100 or More Employees” Requirement for the ETS.

Related Organizations
Two or more related entities may be regarded as a single employer for OSHA purposes if they handle safety matters as one company (i.e., any subsidiary organizations of a Church will be integrated under the “umbrella” of the Church). Example: If your church maintains a coffee shop, retail store, and factory, the Church will be considered an integrated single employer for all employees working in each of these entities. As the Single Employer – Church will be required to include all employees working in the church, coffee shop, retail store, and the factory in its count for number of employees.

Applicability of ETS on Employers with Fluctuating Number of Employees
If the Employer had 100 or more employees on November 5, 2021, the ETS will apply to Employer (even if number of employees has since decreased). If the Employer has had fewer than 100 employees but subsequently hires more workers and hits the 100-employee threshold, the Employer would then be expected to come into compliance with the ETS.

Determining Whether an Individual is a Covered Employee for the ETS
Employers must include all employees across all their U.S. workplaces, regardless of vaccination status or where they perform their work. In other words, all employees—regardless of whether they work In-Office, Off-Site, At-Home, Outdoors, etc.—shall be included in Employer’s count.

Individuals NOT Covered Under ETS: 

Individuals Covered Under ETS: 

Examples for Counting Employees and Determining whether Employer meets the 100-Employee Threshold of ETS:


The ETS requires employers to (1) develop, implement, and enforce a mandatory covid-19 protection policy; (2) determine and maintain records of each employee’s vaccination status; (3) support vaccination by providing certain accommodations to employees; and (4) keep OSHA informed of certain occurrences.

(1) Employer Policy on Vaccination

While OSHA strongly encourages all employers to implement a mandatory vaccination policy, the Agency is currently providing Employers with an alternative policy option. The ETS currently requires Employers to adopt one of two (2) written policy options: (1) Mandatory Vaccination Policy, or (2) Vaccination with Alternative Testing and Face Covering Policy.

Mandatory Vaccination Policy (Option #1)

  1. Vaccine is medically contraindicated,
  2. Medical necessity requires a delay in vaccination, or
  3. Individual is legally entitled to a reasonable accommodation under federal civil rights laws because they have a disability or sincerely held religious beliefs, practices, or observances that conflict with the vaccination requirement

Mandatory Vaccine Policy – TEMPLATE (provided by OSHA)

Vaccination with Alternative Testing and Face Covering Policy (Option #2)

  1. Be fully vaccinated against COVID-19; or
  2. Provide proof of regular testing for COVID-19 and wear a face covering 

Vaccination with Testing & Facemask Alternative Policy – TEMPLATE (provided by OSHA)

Developing Relevant Procedures for Two Sets of Employees Under Both Policy Options 

Additional Information Regarding Policy and Procedure Requirements

ETS – Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) 

(2) Determine and Maintain Records of Each Employee’s Vaccination Status

Employers must require employees to provide an acceptable proof of vaccination status, including whether they are fully or partially vaccinated. If no proof of vaccination is provided, employer must treat such employees as unvaccinated. 

Determining Vaccination Status of Employees

Maintaining Records of Vaccinations

Additional Information Regarding Vaccination Determination and Record Maintenance

ETS – Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) 

(3) Support Vaccination by Providing Certain Accommodations to Employees

Employers must support vaccination by providing employees with reasonable time, including up to four (4) hours of paid time, to receive each vaccination dose, and reasonable time and paid sick leave to recover from side effects experienced following each dose.

Additional Information Regarding Vaccination Support

(4) Keep OSHA Informed of Certain Occurrences 

Employers are required to report work-related COVID-19 fatalities to OSHA within eight (8) hours of learning about them, and to report work-related COVID-19 in-patient hospitalizations within 24 hours of the employer learning about hospitalization. 

How to Report

  1. By telephone to the OSHA Area Office that is nearest to the site of the incident; 
  2. By telephone to the OSHA toll-free central telephone number, 1-800-321-OSHA (1-800-321-6742); 
  3. By electronic submission using the reporting application located on OSHA’s public website at www.osha.gov.


Impact on State and Local Laws
The ETS will supersede any State and Local laws regarding the adoption and enforcement of any workplace requirements relating to these issues, except under the authority of a Federally approved state plan. In particular, OSHA intends to preempt (block) any State or local requirements that ban or limit an employer from requiring vaccination, face covering, or testing.

Governor Abbott’s Current Executive Order

Future Executive Orders by Governor Abbott

Pending Litigation
As previously mentioned, we cannot predict how the Supreme Court will rule on this matter, or how quickly they will rule on this matter following the January 7th Hearing, so the Church should prepare to comply with the standard as soon as January 10, 2021. While Church should prepare to meet current deadlines, with litigation pending, it is possible that the ETS will be overturned, or that specific requirements (including compliance dates) could be changed. Therefore, the Church is encouraged to regularly visit OSHA’s COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing ETS webpage for additional updates following the Supreme Court Hearing.


Churches should prepare to meet compliance deadlines for ETS requirements by taking the following steps:

  1. Review the OSHA-Provided Policy Templates mentioned above and determine which policy works best for your organization.
  2. Mandatory Vaccine Policy – TEMPLATE (provided by OSHA)
  3. Vaccination with Testing & Facemask Alternative Policy – TEMPLATE (provided by OSHA)
  4. Depending on Leaderships decision, Churches should begin developing and drafting the policies required under the ETS and make sure that the policies are adapted to the Church’s unique workplace(s). While you don’t need to implement these policies by January 10, the Church should be ready to implement them as soon as possible and be prepared to show good faith efforts towards putting them in place.
  5. Develop programs that would allow you to conduct compliance training for your management team and deliver information about your policies to your employees as required under the ETS. Conducting this training and promoting information will help demonstrate the Church’s good faith efforts.
  6. If a Church decides to provide the Testing Option, then it should also focus on drafting its testing requirements to suit its workplace needs and work on developing its plan to implement those testing requirements by February 9.
  7. Finally, get to work on collecting vaccination data. As Churches will be required to maintain a detailed roster of all employees, along with their specific vaccination status, if a Church hasn’t already requested this information from its employees, this would be a good time to send out requests for required information.
  8. This could be accomplished by emailing a questionnaire to employees with the initial information needed for the roster. This form can also offer instructions for providing the Church with proof of vaccination and/or documentation required for any claimed exemptions.

If your Church needs assistance in developing, documenting or implementing any of the policies or considerations set forth in this article, the church lawyers who comprise our Church Law Group stand ready to assist you or your organization to ensure compliance with OSHA’s requirements or to provide sound legal advice regarding applicability of these requirements or any related matters.

Church Law Group’s Recommended Best Practices to Prepare for the New Year

By: Kristina Denapolis West and J. Matthew Anthony 

With the conclusion of yet another year, many clients need a gentle reminder their business affairs need to be wrapped up along with the presents under the Christmas tree. Don’t let the excitement of the holidays and fellowship push your business needs to the back of the buffet line. Our firm’s church lawyers recommend the following end-of-year best practices to ensure smooth sailing into 2022 (and beyond):

1. Provide Accurate Donor Receipts

Church donors enjoy tax a deduction for their contributions only if the donor maintains certain written records. As a courtesy and to encourage continued giving, many Churches and nonprofits provide a written acknowledgement to their donors. Written acknowledgments required to substantiate a charitable contribution of $250 or more must contain the following information:

It is extremely important to provide accurate records to donors, as the IRS can fine a church or nonprofit that issues a false acknowledgment to a contributor up to $10,000 for each occurrence. It’s best to prepare and prevent such a situation before it occurs.

2. Set a Budget and Determine Executive Compensation Matters

With each year, the Board of Directors or other designated persons should meet to review its annual budget and account for any compensation planned for its executives and staff.  An executive compensation study is a useful and valuable aid in helping to determine and meet the IRS’s reasonableness requirement as it concerns executive compensation. An executive compensation study is a professional report secured by the Board of directors or other appropriate persons in order to set reasonable compensation of certain highly compensated individuals. A compensation study, completed by an expert in the business of preparing such studies, gathers data within an organization and also from comparable outside organizations so that appropriate salaries can be determined and maintained.

Any individual considered “highly compensated” should have a compensation study performed to justify their compensation if ever inquired of by the IRS.  In a church, this typically will include the senior or lead pastor and sometimes the executive pastor and chief financial officer.  In a ministry that is not a church pursuant to the rules of the IRS, the chief executive officer should have a compensation study, and perhaps the compensation of the chief operating officer and the chief financial officer should be studied as well.

We also advise that an independent compensation committee meet, review, and establish executive salaries. Usually an independent compensation committee is a subcommittee appointed by the board of directors to conduct fact finding of comparability data regarding the compensation of executives and disqualified persons in the organization.  This committee reports its findings back to the board and makes recommendations thereon.

3. Conduct an Annual Conflict-of-Interest Policy Review

Because members of the board of directors owe fiduciary duties to the organization they serve, we suggest that from time to time, and at least annually, the board review its conflict-of-interest policy. We also strongly recommend that the board or other governing body develop and implement a process for disclosure and voting when situations arise in which sitting board members may, actually or potentially, derive personal or professional benefit from the Church’s activities or transactions. The Church Law Group frequently drafts and counsels boards on any conflicts that may arise.

4. Review and Approve Housing Allowance Requests

Churches should ensure all requests for housing allowances for pastors are made in writing, turned in, reviewed by the board or other body responsible for approval of housing allowances and approved prior to such allowances being paid for the coming year. It is extremely important to remember the requirement that approval of clergy housing allowance requests must be undertaken and approved in writing prior to any payment of the requested allowance being made.

The attorneys and legal professionals at the Church Law Group can assist church clients to ensure the proper applications and approvals for clergy housing allowances are undertaken properly in order to meet the requirements required by law.

5. Annual General Meeting and Ratification of Corporate Actions

Be sure the organization has held its annual general meeting of the board during the preceding year. Most jurisdictions require nonprofit tax-exempt entities to hold at least one meeting of their board of directors annually.

At the annual general meeting of the board of directors, the directors should ratify all lawful acts of the organization undertaken during the preceding year. This is recommended in case any previous action of the organization requiring approval of the board was undertaken without such approval having been formally considered by the directors or evidenced in writing via a resolution of the board. The directors, by ratifying all lawful acts of the organization during the preceding year, can ensure all of the organization’s endeavors requiring their consent and approval have received proper authorization and help in shielding the organization from accusations it engaged in unauthorized acts.

Our church lawyers are available to assist your organization in training its board members to ensure compliance with applicable laws and best practices. We want to see each and every client succeed. We are also happy to conduct a shorter “Q&A” event with the board, individually or collectively. Appropriate training and guidance places the board in a position that not only safeguards the organization and its resources, but also protects individual board members from potential personal liability.

Operating a church comes with its fair share of legal challenges and risks. There are several potential church legal issues that can arise in any religious organization. Attorneys experienced in this specific area of law, can help protect a church’s interests and avoid lengthy and expensive legal battles so churches can focus on their important mission. Here are some of the most common reasons why religious organizations face lawsuits.

1. Property Disputes

Whether your church owns one building, multiple pieces of property or has multiple church campuses, legal issues can arise with each of those. Church law attorneys can help a church defend against legal claims such as:

Churches can face property lawsuits from a municipality, denominational organization, private party, or one of its own members.

2. Child Abuse Claims

Sadly, the abuse of children is a common risk shared by churches. Perpetrators of abuse may be staff members, volunteers, congregants or visitors. If a staff member or volunteer of the church commits abuse or the abuse occurs on church property or during a church-sanctioned event, criminal or civil lawsuits are likely to follow. If this occurs, it is important to contact a lawyer for churches right away.

There are steps that can be taken to help prevent these types of issues from happening, such as adopting anti-abuse policies, requiring regular training for church staff and volunteers. Churches should also conduct thorough background checks of staff and volunteers in order to mitigate against abuse situations from occurring.

3. Personal Injuries

Churches have a legal responsibility to ensure their staff, congregants and visitors are safe. If someone is injured while on church property or while participating in a church-sponsored event, the injured person may file a lawsuit against the church. Common claims against churches may involve unsafe conditions, inadequate supervision of activities or negligent vehicle operation during trips involving church business.

At Anthony | Kennedy, PLLC, the Church Law Group, we advise churches and religious organizations on how to prevent and respond to all types of legal risks. Contact a church lawyer in our office today to schedule a consultation.  Call us at (972) 444-8777 or email us at info@amlawteam.com.

Church buildingConsidering that churches are designed for spiritual nourishment and growth, it can be hard to imagine why a church may need an attorney. However, there are many legal aspects involved in religious organizations. While most churches start out small, they grow in size, adding property, buildings, schools and other community services. That means in many ways, churches and pastors can benefit from legal counsel. Here are five reasons why a church needs an attorney.

When a church is hiring, laying off or terminating employees, they should consider their state’s laws concerning employment matters. Church law attorneys can help draft employment contracts and give advice on different types of employment situations. A church lawyer can advise the church on how employer and employee relationships need to be structured to help avoid issues that could arise in the future. Church lawyers can also assist churches in taking advantage of exceptions in the law that typically only apply to religious organization employers.

Governing Documents
Most churches are governed by certain documents that dictate how day to day operations are run. Over time, laws or rules may change, and these documents will need to be reviewed and updated. An attorney for the church can advise church leaders on what to include or remove from these documents to help ensure the smooth running of the church. Church lawyers will also make certain a church’s governing documents work together and do not conflict with each other.

Updating the Church on Current legal Affairs
Churches are governed by certain state laws the same as many businesses and other types of organizations. These laws can change, and the churches need to be aware of changes in the laws that may apply to them in order to remain in compliance. That is why churches may need to hire an attorney from a church law firm to keep them abreast of changes in the law.

Churches are not exempt from being sued. When a lawsuit is filed against a church, the church’s leadership should contact a lawyer for churches, who has experience in the particular area of law concerning the lawsuit. A skilled attorney who specializes in the applicable area of law will be able to give the church the best representation and the best advice for defending against the lawsuit.

Real Estate Issues
A church may need to acquire land for expansion, move to another location or engage in the construction of new church facilities. A church lawyer will go through the different transaction documents to ensure they are in order and the church’s interests are protected. They will also be knowledgeable in the laws regarding property in your state, and can confirm whether the purpose the church wants to use the land for, is allowed in that location.

These are just some of the ways a religious organization can benefit from retaining a lawyer. Unfortunately, many churches only consider employing an attorney when they are facing a legal crisis. A skilled church attorney can do much more than file and defend against lawsuits. Church lawyers can provide valuable advice specific to churches to help avoid legal issues and help the organization run effectively.

To find out more, contact Anthony | Kennedy, PLLC, the Church Law Group. We are here for you. Contact us today and ask about our services and how we can best help you and your organization. Call us at (972) 444-8777 or email us at info@amlawteam.com.

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