One of the most important risk management tools every church should have is a Personnel Handbook.
If your church has more employees than just the pastor, or utilizes a significant amount of "volunteer labor," but has no Personnel Handbook, it is on the edge of a potential legal disaster. California is the most litigious state in the nation when it comes to labor issues, and the state's labor laws are among the most employer-unfriendly in the world.
Churches can unwittingly misclassify employees as independent contractors, or worse yet, enter into what is believed to be an informal agreement with someone to lead a new ministry or mission, only to find themselves on the losing end of a complaint filed with the California Department of Industrial Relations or other state agency, or a civil suit seeking compensation for unpaid work, overtime hours, etc. In some instances, volunteers could be considered employees who are subject to minimum wage laws.
While churches are exempt from having to pay unemployment insurance benefits or withhold state disability insurance premiums from employee paychecks, they are not immune from having to pay overtime wages to employees who work more than eight hours in a day or 40 hours in a week, providing rest and meal breaks, or having to cover employees for "statutory claims" under workers' compensation laws – medical benefits without time or dollar limits, disability income, rehabilitation benefits and survivor benefits to the spouse and children of a worker killed on the job. And while workers' compensation laws are intended to eliiminate litigation over an employee's work-related injury or illness, they have nothing to say about avoiding litigation over differing opinions of the severity of an injury.
A Personnel Handbook cannot prevent an employee from disagreements with an employer, but it can go a long way to reducing the risk of an employer, such as a church, becoming embroiled in a costly legal battle. Churches can adopt Christian conciliation policies that require employees and members to mediate or arbitrate disputes in a forum other than civil courts, where the Bible can be the basis for the ultimate decision instead of a lawbook.
For churches especially, hiring practices cannot be discriminatory, but they can favor offering employment to those whose personal faith aligns with that of the church, as long as the policy is properly expressed in writing. Other issues in a Personnel Handbook include the definition of the work week, work hours, attendance and timekeeping requirements; vacation and sick leave policies; job descriptions and responsibilities; performance reviews, benefits and use of church-owned property. There also are privacy and confidentiality concerns, employees incurring expenses for possible reimbursement and the need for timely delivery of receipts and documentation. Additionally, because a substantial amount of church work is performed by volunteers, a variety of other policies should be adopted specifically, among them reporting accidents and harassment issues.
Churches of all sizes across the country have gotten themselves into trouble by "cutting and pasting" personnel and other policies from Internet sources that have no legal foundation in their state. The CSBC Handbook Builder can prevent those kinds of issues.
What about volunteer ministry leaders and servants?
Expressing the church's intent for its volunteer servants and their ministries is protective of both the church and its volunteers.
Most Southern Baptist churches operate with a cadre of volunteers in ministry, from Sunday morning ushers and hospitality committee to Sunday school teachers, to the homeless ministry and food pantry, to deacons and elders. Those serving in these and other roles should not be overlooked when it comes to personnel policies. Although they are typically unpaid servants, they all need clearly worded "job decriptions" with articulated responsibilities, reporting requirements and defined limits to their roles. In short, ministry leaders and servants should be viewed in the same light as any paid employee with the same duties.
No church is too small.
How can your church prevent potential personnel disasters? CSBC's Human Resources & Church Compliance Ministry has entered into a partnership with BLR – Business & Legal Resources – a highly-respected national company that helps US businesses simplify compliance with state and federal requirements, and offers practical, easy-to-use tools for creating a Personnel Handbook. Through its staff and an exclusive attorney network with the Jackson Lewis law firm, the ThompsonHR division of BLR provides the most comprehensive, reliable, state-specific information available for a handbook. ThompsonHR's Handbook Builder subscription is regularly priced at $300, but CSBC can provide it for $200 (or less). When more than 50 churches commit to participate, we may be able to offer to cooperating churches an additional discount.
Extend your Handbook into a true Policies & Procedures Manual
BLR now has upgraded software. Version 2.0 promises even greater simplification in the compilation of a church handbook, beginning with a "backbone" of federal and California-specific policies gathered by the HR & Church Compliance ministry. The church can then customize local policies according to its practices using suggested wording prepared by the Jackson Lewis attorneys. Version 2.0 also enables churches to add sections that will broaden the scope of their Handbook into a more comprehensive, church-wide Policies & Procedures Manual – something all churches are expected to have and which should be explicitly referred to in their Bylaws as an adjunct "governing document." As a separate governing document, a church's Policies & Procedures Manual can provide important additional protections for the church that should be exclusively focused on and tightly constructed around Southern Baptist polity and internal governance.
For more information, visit http://handbookbuilder.blr.com/csbc/login.aspx To enroll, contact Human Resources & Church Compliance specialist Max Herr at 559-256-0858 or firstname.lastname@example.org.