If your church does not have Workers Compensation Insurance, then now is a great time to consider it. Here is some foundational information for your consideration.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) was enacted in 1970. This Act requires employers to provide and maintain a safe and healthy working environment. Significantly, churches are not specifically exempted from the OSHA requirements. In Georgia, as well as a number of other states, churches are not specifically exempted under state law either. Employers (churches) are not only required to maintain safe working environments. They are also required to maintain careful, thorough records of workplace injuries, accidents, and work-related illness. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has a right to inspect workplaces, including churches, for violations of its health and safety standards. When a complaint is made about the conditions in a workplace being unsafe or unhealthy, then the Occupational Safety and Health Administration would inspect that workplace. If the workplace is found not to be in compliance with OSHA standards, the Administration can issue a citation as well as monetary penalties. Obviously, it would be fiscally prudent to operate our churches safely and in compliance with workplace safety standards. For more detailed information about OSHA’s specific standards, you may go to the OSHA web site: www.OSHA.gov.
If one of the church’s employees is injured during the course of his or her employment, while engaged in a job-related activity, then that employee may be entitled to Workers’ Compensation benefits which would be provided through workers’ compensation insurance. These benefits include payments for medical expenses and lost wages. In secular workplaces, the workers are usually paid employees. However, in our churches, it is commonplace to have more volunteer workers than paid employees. Your church might have a pastor, secretary, and custodian as the only paid employees while you have fifty volunteers working in significant ways in the ministry of the church. Does the church need to provide for its volunteer workers in its Workers Compensation coverage plan. The basic answer is that each church should secure this type of coverage for its paid employees as well as its volunteers, even though the OSHA regulations do not specifically address this. There is case law in Georgia and other states that suggests unpaid volunteer workers can be found to be employees for the purposes of a worker’s compensation claim. Thus, having coverage for volunteers from which to pay such claims is far more economical, and better stewardship of the church’s resources, than taking the risk of having to pay such a claim “out of pocket” due to a lack of coverage.
Finally, be vigilant about providing regular training for all workers, even volunteers, in safe work procedures such as the proper use of ladders and the proper use of power tools. Planning prudently in advance of crises or injury allows your church to be more effective stewards of all your resources for ministry.