New DOL Letter Says Ministerial Exception Applies to FLSA Claims

On January 8, 2021, the Department of Labor (DOL) issued Opinion Letter FLSA2021-2 confirming that the ministerial exception applies to the wage-and-hour requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

The “ministerial exception” is a court-created concept that prevents courts from interfering in employment disputes involving churches and religious organizations based on First Amendment protections.

The opinion letter addresses a question from a church daycare and preschool about paying teachers on an exempt salary basis under the school’s belief that the teachers qualified as ministers for the purposes of the ministerial exception. The DOL confirmed that the teachers could be paid on a salary basis that would otherwise not be in agreement with FLSA requirements assuming they did meet the ministerial exception.

In this new opinion letter, the DOL indicated that an “employee does not have to be ordained” to qualify and that “there is no rigid formula for determining who qualifies for the exemption.” Instead, what the employee does to convey the message and mission of the organization is what matters most.

Because this is a complicated issue and there could be state rulings that impact the use of this ministerial exception, we recommend you consult legal counsel in analyzing this potential exemption for members of your staff.

For more information, refer to the blog post from Sherman & Howard Labor & Employment here.

This text is provided with the understanding that ECFA is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from an accountant, lawyer, or other professional.