Injuries, lawsuits, and legal technicalities are not usually sitting on the front burner of religious workers’ minds, but accidents do not shy away from entering the doors of the church- they happen everywhere, know no bounds. The law applies as scrupulously down to the details as it affects religious institutions as it does to non-religious ones, and it should not be thought unspiritual to consult a lawyer to become aware of what would happen in the event of an accident on church premises or involving church workers.
The law’s dictates in regard to liability for injuries, property damage, and the like will vary somewhat depending on if an employee-employer relation or only a contract with an independent company is involved. In general, one can expect some level of responsibility to cover employees, but independent contractors often are expected to cover themselves. An indemnity (hold-harmless agreement) will need to be in the contract to avoid possible liability for any accidents that happen during the work on church grounds.
Sometimes churches are not sure of whether or not a particular worker can be counted as independent or are not aware of how to ensure that he or she will be so counted in the eyes of the law. As a general rule of thumb, independent contractors provide their own equipment and materials and are “as-needed” rather than “continual” workers. It is best to have a trusted legal adviser assist the church in verifying such status, however, rather than just to assume it is in place.
Some of the criteria the IRS uses in classing workers as employees or contracted include: the presence of the worker’s risk to lose money along with the possibility of profiting,
the worker’s business headquarters and tools being provided by him or her self, the solicitation of work from the general public, and the existence of a written, legally binding contract. Dealing with the IRS may seem like wandering through a dimly lit maze, and, again, it may be wise to get an experienced legal consultant to act as a sort of a flashlight to help you find your way.
If looking to hire an independent contractor, perhaps a construction company, here are a few things that it would be good to check on before signing the contract. See if the contractor has licenses for all jobs to be performed, such as electric, cement, or plumbing. Ask if they have workers’ compensation insurance, an FEIN, and let them know you will use a 1099 form. When having the contract drawn up, be sure to include an indemnity clause.
If you have church insurance, see if it does or can cover all injuries on church property, including of independent contractors. Otherwise, be extra sure about the indemnity clause. Finally, if you do not have the church insured already, consider getting a church insurance quote for insurance that will cover at least church employees and visitors, and possibly even contracted workers.