Laid-off religious workers denied jobless benefits

Beware pastors and staff of churches: If you get laid off, the chances are you will NOT receive unemployment.

God may provide, but the state may not when it comes to unemployment benefits for employees laid off by churches, synagogues and other religious groups.

Carol Bronson discovered that a few months ago after she lost her secretarial job at Temple Emanuel synagogue in Virginia Beach. Bronson assumed she could draw unemployment benefits, but when she filed a claim, she was denied.

It was a hard way to learn that under Virginia law, as in many states, tax exemptions for religious organizations include freedom from paying unemployment taxes, though the IRS requires they pay Social Security and withholding taxes.

“I had no idea that there would not be any benefits for me after leaving my job,” said Bronson, who worked at the synagogue for two years.

I discovered this about 10 years ago when a church let me go because of financial struggles they were facing, and when I went to collect unemployment I found out there was none for me. Churches are not required to pay into unemployment (although they can if they so choose) so pastors and staff in most churches are not covered. The kicker is most of them do not realize this because they are never told.

Churches choose to save money by not paying into unemployment and I think that’s really lame. This is just a warning to any and all pastors and church staff out there. The church may be your “family” but when it comes to money… it’s all business.