Protecting Your Pastors

Unexpected incidents happen every day. What if your pastor is injured falling down stairs or lifting a box? What if he gets into a car accident while driving to visit a sick church member? What happens when your children’s pastor becomes seriously ill and cannot organize Sunday School or youth trips? Situations such as these not only create a drain on the ministry’s capacity to serve the church, but also impact your financial capacity. Should you keep paying the injured pastor while also potentially incurring additional expense to hire a person to do his work? How much of the pastor’s medical and rehabilitation expenses will the church need to cover? What if the pastor sustains a permanent injury, such as paralysis, and is never able to return to his position?

In the State of New York, if a paid employee is injured while working, he or she would be covered by Workers’ Compensation. Workers’ Compensation would pay for medical expenses regardless of a person’s health insurance, rehabilitation or recovery expenses, and a portion of lost wages, though frequently not more than 65% of a person’s regular wages. If that same employee was injured off the job, NYS-mandated disability coverage would pay for up to 50% of an employee’s weekly wages, with a maximum of $170 per week for up to 26 weeks.

Does your pastor have Workers’ Compensation (WC) and Disability (DBL) coverage? New York State allows pastors/clergy who only perform religious duties to be exempted from WC and DBL coverage. In our experience, many smaller churches who only have only pastors and no support staff exempt themselves from WC and DBL altogether. They prefer to insure their pastor through other means, or not insure him or her at all. Some churches, even those with several pastors and support staff, will still choose to not cover their senior pastor with WC and DBL coverage. While this is acceptable by NYS statute, it may be poor planning on the part of many church leadership teams.

Our recommendation, especially for full-time ministers, is to purchase a personal Disability Income (DI) policy. These policies provide comprehensive wage protection should a pastor be injured, while working or on his own time, no matter where the injury happens. Combined with good health insurance, a DI policy is an excellent way to protect the finances of the pastor and the church should tragedy strike. These policies are individually underwritten and start around $1,000 annually, depending on the health, job description, and earnings of the pastor. Opting into both WC and DBL coverage is also an acceptable option, typically one that does not involve a significant insurance premium.

Each church leadership team would be wise to think through the ramifications of a pastoral injury before it happens. If you would like to discuss this further, or would like us to facilitate a discussion on this matter with your leadership team, please contact our Church Insurance specialists to initiate that conversation.

What About Volunteers?

Presently, NYS WC insurers do not charge for the volunteer labor of those who help around your church, from working with kids, to repairing wiring, to moving snow. But be aware! If you allow an employee to volunteer in his or her off-hours, the insurance company may be obligated to pay if that person is injured while volunteering. If this happens, the company may seek to include a premium charge for your volunteers, which can be expensive and difficult to navigate. If you are concerned about volunteer injury, watch for our upcoming spotlight on this topic, or contact us.

James Dick, CPCU, AAI

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