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Legal Q & A

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Legal Q & A Complete List

Boards, Bylaws, Organization & Records
Q: What does our ministry need to know about affiliated organizations?

...The creation of an affiliated organization within the ministry’s larger corporate structure can provide multiple benefits, but it also presents certain drawbacks...

Q: Are church board members personally liable for board decisions?

...Church board members have been placed in a position of trust, and they have a legal duty to place the church’s interests ahead of their own...

Q: As a church board member, what issues should I be aware of?

...Every church board should be prepared to answer the following 10 questions, starting with, "Are we incorporated?"...

Q: Should our ministry incorporate?

...In today’s legal climate, objections to incorporating a church based on submission to the authority of the state are obsolete...

Q: Should we include indemnification provisions in our ministry bylaws?

...Ministry leaders and employees should be protected if they’re sued in connection with their work on behalf of the organization.

Q: What documents should we keep, and for how long?

...You may not have to retain every record that crosses your desk, but before you decide to toss anything, determine what you need to keep and why.

Q: What issues should we consider when merging with another ministry?

...Consider leadership changes, changes to legal documents, decision-making up to the point of the merger, employment transition,  title changes for owned assets, and vendor relationships... 

Q: What should our ministry know about bylaws?

...Your bylaws are your ministry’s opportunity to write your own story on how your ministry will look and act...

Facility, Building & Grounds
Q: What risk management issues are associated with lending our church facility to an outside group?

...You can avoid some risk management issues by knowing who will be using your facility and for what purpose...

Q: What risks should our ministry know about owning or leasing solar panels?

...Some insurance, legal, and tax issues can arise when you own or lease solar panels. Here are eight issues to explore before using this form of alternative energy.

Q: What types of warning signs should we post around our ministry?

...Warning signs are needed when dangerous conditions on ministry property can create liability in the unfortunate event of an injury...

Finance & Tax
Q: Does our ministry need an Employer Identification Number (EIN)?

...Every ministry should have an Employee Identification Number (EIN). An EIN for an organization is like an individual's Social Security Number...

Q: How do we protect ministry finances against theft?

...We recommend you develop a comprehensive written policy governing ministry finances...

Q: How should a church or ministry respond to requests for support from political groups and candidates?

...Churches must use caution when becoming involved in political activity to avoid losing their 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status...

Q: Is our ministry automatically tax-exempt?

...Churches are exempt organizations, however, other not-for-profit organizations must be “recognized” by the IRS as qualifying for 501(c)(3) status...

Q: What is the Unrelated Business Income Tax (UBIT)?

...The Unrelated Business Income Tax (UBIT) is collected on all income earned apart from an organization's tax-exempt purpose...

Q: What political activity is prohibited by tax-exempt status?

...501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations are prohibited from influencing legislation and Political Campaign Interventions...

Q: What should ministry leaders know about donations that are directed by the donor to go to a specific individual or program?

...Gifts generally must be made to the ministry or a specific ministry program, rather than an individual...

General Law, Contracts & Insurance
Q: How should our ministry respond to a subpoena?

... It’s usually best to respond as requested. However, there are certain times when a ministry may want to fight a subpoena...

Q: What liability insurance limits do ministries need?

...There are four factors to consider when selecting liability limits:  likelihood of loss, the church's assets, the likely damages that would be awarded, and the ministry's "appetite for risk."

Q: How helpful are charitable immunity laws?

...Many states have enacted charitable immunity laws as a way to help protect volunteer workers from being sued in connection with their volunteer service....

Q: Our ministry is being sued. What should we do?

...You should promptly provide a copy of the lawsuit to your ministry's attorney and seek counsel on how to respond appropriately...

Q: What do I need to know about state child abuse reporting laws?

...If you don't take proper action regarding allegations of child abuse, you and your ministry may be subject to civil and criminal liability, so make sure you are compliant with reporting laws...

Q: What insurance protection does our ministry need for a construction project?

...Your ministry will need liability insurance, but there are other risks associated with building projects that require special insurance...

Q: What should ministry leaders know about contracts?

...Ministry leaders should know how to recognize the rights and responsibilities of the ministry in any contract...

Health
Q. Can our ministry be responsible for injury or expense related to bedbugs, bats or other pests if they’re found at our facility? How do we deal with this situation?

... If a guest comes into contact with a pest at your facility and their interaction with the pest results in injury, disease or financial damage, your ministry could potentially be liable for the injury or expense that’s incurred.

Q. Do we have to report all injuries, even those that are insignificant?

... Prompt reporting of all work-related injuries is a risk management best practice for any ministry.

Q. How should our church respond to children with chronic communicable illnesses?

...Ministry leaders should plan ahead and develop policies and procedures that balance the interests of the infected minor against the ministry’s responsibility for the overall health and safety of all children and ministry workers.

Q: How can our ministry limit liability resulting from sudden medical emergencies?

...Ministries can limit liability by having a trained and equipped Medical Response Team...

Q: How do good Samaritan laws apply to our ministry?

...Consult with a local attorney to find out if good Samaritan laws apply to churches in your state...

Q: How should our ministry address serious allergies?

...Address serious allergies by educating and preparing your staff and volunteers to handle allergic reactions...

Q: How should we handle children attending our ministry’s school who have a medical need for personal medical devices?

...It’s a good idea to create and follow a child care policy that addresses how the ministry will accommodate children who have chronic and severe medical conditions requiring the assistance of a personal medical device (i.e., an insulin pump)...

Q: What if children in our ministry’s care have not received standard immunizations?

...Craft and follow a child care policy that addresses how the ministry will deal with unvaccinated children...

Q: What is parish nursing?

...When forming a parish nursing program in your ministry, follow these steps...

Q: What legal concerns are associated with our ministry opening a healthcare clinic?

...When administering medical care as part of your ministry, you need to minimize your legal risks...

Independent Contractors
Q: Could our ministry owe taxes or workers' compensation benefits in connection with independent contractors?

...It is possible. Liability will be determined based on tax requirements, contractor status, and workers' compensation requirements...

Q: Does our ministry's workers' compensation policy cover independent contractors?

...Generally speaking, a truly “independent” contractor will not be covered by your ministry’s workers’ compensation policy...

Q: How can our ministry identify an independent contractor for tax purposes?

...When determining whether or not a worker is an independent contractor, the IRS says that ministries need to evaluate three categories...

Q: How might our ministry be liable for the acts of an independent contractor?

...When a ministry hires an independent contractor, or “agent,” the ministry may be held responsible for certain acts of its agent that cause harm to others...

Ministry Activities & Operations
Q. How can we reduce liability exposures associated with adult care ministries?

...Various elements factor into the answer to this question: the type of ministry you operate, state and city location, hiring practices, safety and security procedures, and more... 

Q. Is our ministry required to display labor law posters?

... In general, ministries with paid employees are required to post labor law posters.

Q. What does our ministry need to do to follow federal OSHA record-keeping requirements?

... Generally, religious organizations are only required to report certain work-related incidents.

Q. What should ministries consider before awarding prizes in a ministry promotion?

...Before embarking on a promotion involving prizes, ministry leaders should consider whether the ministry's promotion is properly organized according to federal and state laws.

Q. What should our ministry consider before engaging in a service project?

...Ministry leaders should be aware of the risks presented by a service project and how to effectively manage those risks.

Q: How can our ministry protect itself against liability related to youth events or special needs ministry activities?

... While there’s no approach that will completely eliminate risk, there is a way for your ministry to help protect itself from liability: a well-drafted Activity Participation Agreement ...

Q: Does our ministry need permission to use pictures of people in our publications and on our websites?

...If the photograph was taken at a public event, and not of a guest speaker or well-known person, permission is not necessarily needed...

Q: Does our ministry need to obtain a special permit before serving or selling food?

...Local law determines if your ministry needs a permit to serve or sell food...

Q: How can we guard against liability related to church discipline?

...Avoid liability by writing a discipline policy that leaders, members, and attendees agree to...

Q: How should our ministry deal with, and document, injuries occurring during activities?

...An effective injury reporting procedure should include completion of a Notice of Injury Form...

Q: One of our church attendees uses a service animal and would like to bring it to church. How should we respond?

...Following a written policy can help ensure that the ministry responds lawfully and consistently when someone asks to bring a service animal to church...

Q: Should we allow a registered sex offender to attend our church?

...You should proceed carefully. Prepare by adopting strategies to manage the situation....

Q: What is an activity participation agreement?

...An activity participation agreement ensures that a participant understands the risks associated with a particular activity...

Q: What should ministry personnel know about mandatory reporting requirements?

...Ministry leaders should familiarize themselves with the mandatory reporting laws in their state and educate employees and volunteers on the requirements they must fulfill...

Q: What steps can our church take to minimize liability during an overnight youth event?

  ...Well-worded Activity Participation Agreements, careful supervision by screened chaperones, and insurance coverage can help to protect your church and your people in the course of overnight youth events.

Ministry Workers (Employees & Volunteers)
Q. What Should Our Ministry Be Aware of Before Recording Conversations?

... Ministry leaders should be very aware of the legal restrictions and exceptions that apply to recording conversations.

Q. What Should Our Ministry Consider Before We Fire an Employee?

... Rushing the process is one of the biggest mistakes ministries can make in the area of employee termination.

Q: What rules apply when hiring youth to perform work for our ministry?

... Hiring young people to work at church can be a great way to involve them in your ministry. Just be sure to follow the Fair Labor Standards Act, avoid hazardous activities, follow minimum wage requirements, and maintain appropriate work records...

Q: What should our church do when an employee or volunteer background check turns up a criminal record?

... Conducting interviews and reference checks to ensure that the candidate is otherwise qualified for the position will provide additional information needed in making an employment or involvement decision.

Q: Does the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) apply to our ministry?

...The Fair Labor Standards Act applies to ministries that are considered “enterprises”...

Q: Does the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) apply to our ministry's employees individually?

...Even if the Fair Labor Standards Act doesn't apply to your ministry as a whole, some of your employees may still be covered by it...

Q: How do we develop or update an effective worker screening policy?

...You should work with an attorney to establish effective screening procedures...

Q: Is our employee exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) as a "creative professional" employee?

...Salary level, salary basis, and job duties are all factors that determine whether the creative professional exemption applies...

Q: Is our ministry employee exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) as a "computer tech" employee?

...Salary level, salary basis, and job duties are all factors that determine whether the computer professional exemption applies...

Q: Is our ministry employee exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) as a "professional" employee?

...Salary level, salary basis, and job duties are all factors that determine whether the professional exemption applies...

Q: Is our ministry employee exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) as an "administrative" employee?

...Salary level, salary basis, and job duties are all factors that determine whether the administrative exemption applies...

Q: Is our ministry employee exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) as an "executive" employee?

...Salary level, salary basis, and job duties are all factors that determine whether the executive exemption applies...

Q: What factors should we consider when we develop or update our employee handbook?

...Consider updating your employee handbook annually, having an attorney review it, and communicating the policies it contains with new employees ...

Q: What steps should we take before letting an employee go?

...Be aware of civil litigation regarding wrongful employment practices and review the following guidelines...

Religious Freedom
Q. What should churches and ministries know about the U.S. Supreme Court's decision regarding same-sex marriage?

... On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5-4 ruling, holding that the Fourteenth Amendment requires a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex. The decision also requires states to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed in another state.

Q: Are clergy members required to sign marriage licenses?

...If a clergyperson chooses to officiate or solemnize a wedding, most states require the officiant to sign the state marriage license in order for the marriage to be recognized by the state...

Q: Can an employee sue a church or ministry for decisions based on religious beliefs?

... A landmark 2012 U. S. Supreme Court ruling makes it much easier for churches and other ministries to defend themselves when church leaders make decisions based on their religious beliefs.

Safety & Security
Q: Are ministries allowed to remove disruptive people?

...When a ministry has reason to believe that a person will disrupt its service or activity, the ministry may either deny access or require the person to leave....

Q: Do concealed carry laws apply to our school ministry?

... Concealed carry laws vary from state to state. Work with a local attorney to determine what laws apply to schools in your state.

Q: How do we create a disaster response plan to help our community in the event of a natural disaster?

...If you choose to minister during a crisis by offering your facilities as a temporary shelter, evacuation center or emergency coordination center, you need to plan ahead...

Q: How do we prepare for violence in the church?

...First, form a team to assess the risks. Second, create a plan that establishes guidelines on how to respond to each risk...

Q: How should we respond to a demonstration at our ministry location?

...Ask church members, attendees, and guests to ignore demonstrators...

Q: How should we respond to individuals who disrupt a ministry service or event?

...Train ministry volunteers to persuade disruptive individuals to leave the sanctuary or event without using force...

Q: Should our church have armed security guards?

...Every church must make its own determination whether circumstances exist that warrant an an armed security team...

Q: Should our school ministry have armed security guards?

...Before you make weapons part of your school security plan, check with a local attorney to determine what laws apply to schools in your state...

Technology & Media
Q. Are there restrictions for using Internet images in ministry publications?

...Whether you're adding photographs to your ministry's website or creating a bulletin or brochure, keep in mind that copyright laws protect most creative works...

Q: Can our ministry use electronic signatures to sign documents?

...Electronic Signatures have the same function as their printed counterparts—they are an indication of a signer’s intent to agree to the terms of a document...

Q: How can our ministry reduce liability associated with youth texting/sexting activity?

...Ministries should inform staff, volunteers, and members about the dangers of texting/sexting, and should create a written policy on the subject...

Q: What information should my ministry include in its online privacy policy?

...Keep the following in mind when working with a local attorney to draft an online privacy policy for your ministry...

Q: What steps should our music ministry take to avoid copyright-related lawsuits?

...Gain permission for the proposed use of any photograph, song, film, or computer-generated image before using...

*Important information: Brotherhood Mutual is pleased to provide LegalAssistance as a complimentary resource. The services we offer through LegalAssistance are intended to provide general legal information to our current and prospective policyholders.

The information we provide is intended to be helpful, but it does not constitute legal advice and is not a substitute for the advice from a licensed attorney in your area. Accordingly, no attorney/client relationship is created through this process, and no legal advice will be provided. We strongly encourage you to regularly consult with a local attorney as part of your risk management program.

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