Starting December 1, churches and other ministries will be required to pay overtime to full-time, salaried support staff making less than about $48,000 a year.
That means employees such as church secretaries or janitors must be paid 1.5 times their normal rate for any time they put in beyond 40 hours a week.
The announcement from the Department of Labor (DOL) could affect more than 4 million of the country’s full-time, salaried work force. But it probably won’t, because 60 percent of them don’t work any overtime, the Los Angeles Timesreported. Instead, the rule should only affect about 1 percent of American workers.
The new wage threshold of $47,476—up from the previous $23,660 threshold established in 2004—will automatically adjust every three years to track growth in wages.
“With no specific exemption for nonprofits that employ millions of Americans, the new rules will have a significant impact on the finances and human resources of churches and ministries throughout the United States,” the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) stated.
Staffing budgets, work schedules, job descriptions, and employee handbooks may all have to be revised, the ECFA said.
The rule will apply to church employees such as bookkeepers or musicians—but probably not to pastors. That means pastors can work more than 40 hours a week but won’t be entitled to overtime pay.
“The FLSA [Fair Labor Standards Act] does not specifically provide a ministerial exemption, but some case law applies a ministerial exemption to wage and hour laws,” wrote Ryan Hutchinson, executive vice president for operations at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. “In short, there is no definitive answer to this, especially if a minister does not meet the minimum salary requirements.”
But while ministers aren’t specifically exempt, professional employees are, legal expert Richard Hammar wrote for Church Law & Tax Report, a CT sister publication. “This would include ministers as long as they meet the minimum salary test.”
Pastors who don’t meet the salary threshold, or who are paid hourly, “technically do not meet the definition of an exempt professional employee,” he explained. But they might be exempt anyway.
“Past language suggests that the official position of the DOL is that clergy are not subject to the minimum wage and overtime pay requirements of the FLSA no matter how little they earn, and two federal courts have specifically ruled that the FLSA does not apply to ministers due to the so-called ‘ministerial exception,’” Hammar wrote.
Preschool and daycare teachers are also considered professionals and are exempt from the policy.
Church employees won’t be able to get around the rules by “volunteering” their time, unless they’re volunteering for duties that aren’t part of their paid job, Hutchinson said. And offering compensation time—trading time off in the future for extra work done this week—is also out. Hours are calculated weekly, not averaged over a longer period of time.