Operating Effectively 203: Employment & Faith-Based Nonprofits

What You'll Learn

This skills course focuses on employment issues for religious organizations. The course begins with an overview of the Ministerial Exception, an important aspect of the First Amendment that offers certain protections for religious organizations in employment matters. This course will also introduce topics such as compensation considerations and social media policy for employees, as well as provide practical resources such as an employment self-audit and a sample employee handbook. This course will introduce you to key concepts regarding employment, help you to draft an employee handbook and create good employment policy, and provide practical steps you can take to protect your organization in the hiring, promotion, and termination of employees.

Lesson 1

The Ministerial Exception: How Faith-Based Nonprofits Can Safeguard Their Right to Choose Their Own Leaders

In general, state and federal law prohibit discrimination based on religion and immutable characteristics such as race, sex, color, and national origin. But under the ministerial exception, churches, religious schools, and other qualifying religious organizations are exempt from these laws in connection with the hiring and firing of their ministerial employees. This protection applies only to employment decisions involving a distinct class of employees who are considered ministers. While the term “minister” encompasses more than just a church’s ordained clergy, the precise scope of the term is not clearly defined. There are, however, some guidelines that Catholic non-profits can follow to determine which of their employees might qualify as ministers.

Lesson 2

Employment Self-Audit

Most faith-based nonprofit employers (“Employers”) are pleased by the United States Supreme Court’s recent opinions strengthening legal protections for religious employers. Given the alternative possibility, that reaction is quite understandable. Employers may have already begun to update their policies and practices to ensure that the organization does not inadvertently waive these protections. Now is the time to do a more thorough audit of employment practices so that Employers comply with the many applicable state and federal laws.

Lesson 3

Sample Employee Handbook for Catholic Schools

This sample employee handbook is directed towards Catholic Schools, but, with the assistance of an attorney, could be adapted to other apostolates as well. The sample employee handbook is an educational resource that can be used as a guide in consultation with an attorney.

Lesson 4

Example Social Media Policy

Social Media is both an opportunity and a threat for faith-based organizations. Nothing deters prospective program participants or donors from involvement with an organization like irresponsible social media use does. This example social media policy educates organizations on how to use social media to further their missions, rather than cause scandal or chaos, through effective and prudent social media usage.

Lesson 5

Consider Mediation

Employment disputes are common and can quickly result in litigation. This whitepaper walks through considerations for mediation for faith-based organizations, including a sample mediation and arbitration agreement.

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