California Employment Law Blog

Are Employees of Religious Institutions Exempt from Wage and Hour Laws?

Posted by Timothy B. Del Castillo | Mar 22, 2019 | 0 Comments

Students in classroom

In March of 2019, a legal battle ensued between the California Labor Commission and the Stephen S. Wise Temple in Los Angeles County over employment rights for teachers at religious institutions. The case, brought by California's Labor Commission Julie Su, sought to provide preschool teachers employed by the Stephen Wise Temple, the right to rest breaks, uninterrupted meal breaks, and overtime pay. These standard, fundamental employment rights were contested by the temple, stating a "ministerial exception," a constitutional right that allows religious institutions to treat ministers differently. This move effectively side-steps these employment rights, however, the ultimate argument by the Labor Commission is that preschool teachers do not qualify as ministers, nor are they required to adhere to the same standards of ministers within the temple. Simply put, the Labor Commission claimed that their teachers were teachers, not ministers.

Stephen Wise Temple

Stephen Wise Temple (formally known as Stephen S. Wise Temple) is one of the largest Jewish congregations in the country, situated in the picturesque Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles California. As with many large churches, synagogues, and mosques, the temple also runs an Early Childhood Center (ECC), employing 40 preschool teachers, who teach both secular and religious content to children five and younger. Teachers at the temple are not required to study theology, be ordained as religious leaders, or even be practitioners of the Jewish Faith.

Ministerial Exemption

Most Americans are familiar with the First Amendment of the Constitution, which prohibits laws that interfere with the free exercise of religion. The ministerial exemption was firmly solidified in legal precedent by Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical v. E.E.O.C., in which the Supreme Court upheld the rights to use the ministerial exception to avoid constitutional violations and employment discrimination cases. The Supreme Court ultimately held that religious institutions should not be subject to EEOC rules lest they violate the organization's First Amendment Rights. However,  the court did not establish a solid and concrete methodology for deciding when an employee qualifies as a minister and when he or she does not.

Protecting Employment Rights

The outcome of the case comes down to two (in this case, competing) ideologies: first amendment rights of a religions organization versus California Employment law. While the court didn't address how exactly the ministerial exception applies to California's wage-and-hour laws, it did decide that the Temple wasn't able to prove its preschool teachers are exempt as ministers.  Although there is no black and white test, the best practice for religious employers is to assume that wage and hour laws apply to all employees unless the employee is indisputably in a spiritual and ministerial role.  

About the Author

Timothy B. Del Castillo

Tim practices employment law in California and represents both employees and employers in federal and state courts, administrative hearings, arbitrations, mediations, and in direct negotiations. Tim also offers advice and counsel and training to businesses to help them achieve compliance with California employment laws.

Comments

There are no comments for this post. Be the first and Add your Comment below.

Leave a Comment

QUALITY REPRESENTATION FROM A TRUSTED ADVISOR.

Castle Law’s goal is to become your trusted advisor and to provide real value for all of your employment law needs. To become our client’s trusted advisors, we aim to provide quality representation and sound advice time and again.

FREE CONSULTATION.

There is no charge for the initial phone consultation. An attorney will personally speak with you about your case and provide you with an honest analysis. Fill out the contact form on the website with detailed information about your circumstances and we will schedule a telephone appointment.

Copyright © 2019 Tim Del Castillo

Attorney Timothy B. Del Castillo is responsible for the content on this website, which may contain an advertisement. The information on this website does not constitute an attorney-client relationship and no attorney-client relationship is formed until conflicts have been cleared and both parties have signed a written fee agreement. Please do not send any confidential information through the website. The materials and information on this website are for informational purposes only and should not be relied on as legal advice. PRIOR RESULTS DO NOT GUARANTEE FUTURE OUTCOMES. Any testimonials or endorsements do not constitute a guarantee, warranty, or prediction regarding the outcome of your legal matter.

Menu