Although most churches, because of their limited size and number of employees, are exempt from many state and federal employment laws, employment policies and practices present additional areas of potential legal exposure for churches. As an ethical matter, churches will want to honor many of these federal and state mandates even though not required to do so by law. A helpful resource for dealing with these issues is The Church Guide To Employment Law by Julie L. Bloss, J.D.
“Sexual Harassment” is a legal term in the U.S. which refers to conduct in the context of employment. It is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title VII of Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission of the U.S. defines “sexual harassment” as follows:
“Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when 1) submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment, 2) submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individuals, or 3) such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment.”
Most churches are not subject to Title VII, which applies only to employers with fifteen or more employees and engaged in an industry affecting interstate commerce. Many states also have laws prohibiting sexual harassment, and local churches should check those laws for applicable provisions. Additionally, victims of sexual harassment can sue a church on the basis of other theories of liability under state law regardless of the applicability of sexual harassment laws. It is important, therefore, for a local church to have a policy and procedures for prevention of and response to sexual harassment.
A “Sexual Harassment” policy should define what sexual harassment means, designate a specific individual to whom incidents of sexual harassment should be reported, outline a process for investigation of complaints, define the procedure for written documentation of the incident (s) and investigation, include a requirement for confidentiality in all reporting and interviews, state the possible consequences for individuals who engage in sexual harassment and provide for follow-up at a later date to assure that there are no further incidents. Provision should also be made for training of the individual designated to receive complaints and implement the process.
The UFMCC’s General Council has adopted the following policy statement on sexual harassment:
“Sexual harassment in any form by UFMCC personnel is strictly prohibited. (Furthermore no individual shall harass any other person based on that person’s race, sex, faith, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, relationship status, age, health status or physical challenge. Appropriate action will be taken toward those individuals who engage in such conduct, up to and including, removal from their position.
Prohibited conduct includes, but is not limited to one or more of the following activities:
a) To make offensive written or oral slurs, gestures or physical contact.
b) To make acceptance of sexual propositions a condition of appointment/hire or the right to remain in that position.
c) To harass verbally an individual through the use of sexual epithets or reference to inherent physical characteristics.
d) To make unwelcome or improper sexual advances; and
e) To create a hostile working environment.
Elders, District Coordinators, Department/Commission/Program Chairs, Boards of Directors, Pastors shall ensure that the work environment remains free of such harassment in any form by any persons.
—General Council XVII Minutes 93.10.CP.10