Workers' Compensation Issues in Churches

Workers' Compensation Issues in Churches

Churches are vulnerable to a variety of challenges concerning employees, independent contractors and volunteers. Among those are wage and hour law violations when employees are misclassified as independent contractors, and insurance coverage for non-employees injured while working for the church as a contractor or volunteer, or as a visitor on the church campus.

Employee vs. contractor for workers' compensation:
Under California and federal law, a “statutory” employee is one who is “under the control” of the church. Generally, the determination of control includes who determines work days and hours, work location, work to be performed, and who supplies the necessary tools.

A common violation involves worship team musicians paid to play on Sunday morning. They are probably not independent contractors even though they play their own instruments, because they aren’t free to choose their work days, hours or music, and probably are under the direction of a church staff member.

As employees, they must be paid minimum wage, may be entitled to rest and meal breaks, and must be covered for workers’ compensation claims.

Just because the church issues a 1099 income statement doesn’t make that worker a contractor or exclude coverage for workers’ compensation claims.

Misclassifying a worker as a contractor rather than an employee not only creates potential wage and hour violations, it can also result in a job-related injury claim that might not be covered by the church's workers’ compensation policy, and the church could be liable for 100 percent of the statutory claims: medical expenses without time or dollar limits, defined disability income benefits, rehabilitation benefits and survivor benefits in the event of a job-related death.

Volunteers and workers' compensation
What happens when a volunteer is injured while supervising or participating in a church activity or otherwise performing services for the benefit of the church?

California law allows volunteers to be covered under the church’s workers’ compensation insurance policy, but this can affect the cost of such coverage based on the services performed and number of hours of service, and can easily increase the total premium by 50 percent or more. And nothing prevents an injured volunteer or guest from suing the church for negligence.

One alternative is to add a specific accident coverage endorsement to the church’s general liability policy. Such endorsements are cost effective and can provide significant benefits to an injured person, whether a volunteer or guest, who is not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. If your church is insured with Church Mutual Insurance Company, you may already have an accident endorsement included with your policy.

Churches are encouraged to discuss property, casualty and workers’ compensation coverages and needs with their agent, a representative of Church Mutual at 800-995-7525, or CSBC HR and church compliance at 559-256-0858 or

This Convention serves our culturally diverse congregations as we fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.