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And Another Thing...

Question: Are churches exempt from Employment Laws? Yes…and No 

Scenario: A teacher at a religious school develops a disability.  After some time on disability leave, the teacher advises the principal of her intention to return to work.  The school instead, determines the teacher’s resignation is in the best interest of the school and students.  Does this violate Employment laws such as Americans with Disabilities Act?  

There exists a “ministerial exception” rooted in the First Amendment which precludes the application of Employment Discrimination legislation as it pertains to the employment relationship between a church and its ministers.  Also rooted in the First Amendment are the Free Exercise Clause and the Establishment Clause.  Both of which prevent the government from interfering with a religious group’s decisions on hiring and/or firing.  See U.S. Const. amend. I, which states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” 

In order to determine the applicability of the ministerial exception, an in depth investigation into the employee’s role, responsibilities, time allocation to religious activities, and commissioned or ordained status must be completed.  

If it is determined that the employee and his/her activities result in that employee being held out as a minister of the faith for that institution, then no, there is no violation of Employment Laws. The above religious clauses protect the religious autonomy of the institution to determine who is qualified or not qualified, to serve in positions of religious importance. 

If, on the other hand, the employee  is not considered a minister of the faith, and his/her role, duties, responsibilities do not further the mission of the religious institution, then yes, Employment Laws may have been violated. 

Unfortunately most investigations rarely result in such definitive answers.  We recommend that you seek legal counsel before making a final determination on an employee’s status and the result it may have on the application of Employment Laws. 

Have additional questions on this topic or others? Call RC Kelly Law Associates at 215-896-3846 or email help@rckelly.com.



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