WAGE AND HOUR LAWS AND CHURCHES

Wage and hour laws are generally statutes enacted by states that govern hourly wages, overtime, and other rules.  Generally, in addition to the statutes in each state, each state has adopted regulations that further interpret the statutes.  Therefore, generalizations about state wage and hour law are problematic.  Most states, by statute, regulation or some other means limit the enforcement of wage and hour laws as to church employment.  Employees that are “ministerial” are generally not governed by state wage and hour laws.  However, determining when an employee is “ministerial” under these state provisions can also be problematic.

In Samano v Temple of Kriya, Slip Op. (ILL. App. 2020), the trial court held that the Plaintiff’s employment was governed by state wage and hour law.  The trial court reasoned that the duties of the Plaintiff were more secular than religious.  The appellate court reversed.  The Plaintiff’s title included her as ministerial staff, she conducted weddings, baptisms, and funerals, even though these were not her primary duties, and she was responsible for disseminating “the spiritual messaging of the defendant temple” to the public.  She was responsible for posting religious books, digital versions of sermons, and streaming of yoga as a form of spiritual study.  That the defendant charged for some of the materials did not convert all of them from religious to secular.  As a result, the regulatory authority’s pronouncements regarding jobs that were considered ministerial could and probably did encompass Plaintiff’s job.  The appellate court took guidance from federal decisions exploring the scope of the Ministerial Exception even though the language of state wage and hour laws and regulations were not identical to federal employment laws.

Wage and hour laws will likely be, if the statutory language permits enforcement as to religious entities, enforceable as to clerical and cleaning employees in churches.  Whether these statutes will be imposed on the relationship with employees that have secular as well as ministerial duties will remain unclear.  Courts that try to determine whether a duty is secular rather than religious will risk entanglement in ecclesiastical issues the First Amendment and the Ministerial Exception were to avoid.  Application of the “primary duties” test used in Ministerial Exception cases may further narrow the application of wage and hour laws, too.

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