The issue of minimum wage, workmen’s compensation, unemployment compensation and other government regulations of rehabilitation and work therapy type program is still before us. Several missions have been questioned about non-payment of either state or federal minimum wage. Several missions have agreed to pay certain people in programs they operate minimum wage in order to not battle the government. some have begun charging for their rehabilitation program, and pay minimum wage for the work portion of the program.




In June 1990, the United States Department of Labor’s Advisory Committee on Special Minimum Wages expressed concern that the Wage and Hour Division of the United States Department of Labor was using a double standard by failing to apply the minimum wage protection to Salvation Army beneficiaries (those in rehabilitation and work therapy programs). The Department determined that the Salvation Army was not in compliance with the law, and had not filed as a Sheltered Workshop which organizations like the Goodwill Industries, and Volunteers of America have done. The Salvation Army has declined to apply for this exemption due to its spiritual nature, and its belief that this law was not meant to relate to the homeless.




In 1991, after much Congressional pressure raised after both the Salvation Army and Rescue Missions related the concern with Members of Congress and the United States Senate, the Department of Labor stated that they still believed that they were right. The Department stated “no further action would be taken by the Department” while a study was being made, and a solution was being sought. That’s the last that we have heard from the Department of Labor.




The issue is "are the people who do work in a mission as part of recovery-rehabilitation employees?” or are they beneficiaries gaining basic room & board, and an “allowance” to cover basic needs while gaining stability, and basic work training, etc? This means that the amount of funds paid must fall within a “basic need” category, and cannot be paid for work performed, or services rendered. I will cover this in the guidelines below. We also need to understand that we are in a “gray” area, due to the fact that we are dealing with many different state and federal regulations and laws, and these laws are written differently. For instance, in some states individuals involved in rehabilitation type programs must be covered under workmen’s compensation laws, others, that is not true.




Some missions, due to the size of their budgets and the fact that they are not involved in at least overt interstate commerce, may well be exempt from the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, but most state laws are based on that act, and set state minimum wage standards that are sometimes even higher than federal standards. Due to the fact that the Department of Labor has not changed its opinion just its desire to enforce its opinion, local regulators or courts may determine to enforce the view that people in our programs must be treated as employees or we must gain exemption through the Sheltered Workshop Act which sets certain requirements relating to both program, and wages to be paid to participants.




It is my belief that we still can operate Recovery/Rehabilitation WE Programs without violating federal law, and the laws of most states, CAN but it is important that we follow reasonable guidelines. The OVERCOME following are the guidelines that we used at the Union Gospel Mission of Seattle which were agreed upon by the State of Washington relating to clients in our Christian Recovery Program:




1.  A process of rehabilitation and recovery should be outlined on GUIDE- paper. The program can be totally spiritual, but the process should be clearly shown.


2.  Any money given must be based on need only, and must be consistent. Difference in amounts given must reflect financial need, or incentives to stay in the program. Paying more to keep people (cooks, clerks, truck drivers) and still listing them as program people raises the question of whether the money is given for services rendered, thus creating an employee-employer relationship. The same would be true of extra money for extra work.


3.  Consistency in handling program people. If the cook attends no Bible Studies, etc., while others must, it raises questions on whether he (or she) is part of a recovery program.


4.  Reasonable record-keeping is very important for this shows that we have a “real” program. At least it is important to bureaucrats.


5.  Stay away from names like staff, operating staff, misc. wages, gratuities, etc. which imply employee-employer relationships. Gratuity to IRS means a “gift for services rendered.” Use words like disciples, program members, recovery men (or women) etc. Remember the word “intern” is also an “employee” according to the Department of Labor, and has special rules. Income must be reported and Social Security regulations are in place. For funds given use words like sustenance allowance, gift, etc.


6.  Have your clients sign a statement which shares the concept of your program and their agreement to be a part of the program and fulfill the requirements and expectations of the program. List in the agreement that they understand that they are not employees, that they do not get employment benefits, and are not covered under workmen’s compensation (unless required in your state), unemployment compensation.


7.  Clearly set policies that clarify the length of program, and phases of the program, and clearly make a difference between those in the program, and those becoming employed. Remember you are only allowed to give an allowance that meets basic needs beyond what you provide. My thought is that approximately $25.00 weekly would be the limit. When we want to move a person from there, we should make him or her an employee.




This information is based on my understanding of the issues, and is not all conclusive nor should be thought of as legal or accounting counsel. It is some basics that keep us within the normal understanding of what a “recovery-rehabilitation” program looks like. We have had instances where missions who were checked were not following guidelines, or keeping individual records showing client progress, etc. These programs are very hard to defend, because they do not clearly show a client gaining recovery services. Could we do all this right, and lose? That is possible, but we have not had any court tests that I know of, and these guidelines clearly stay within the normal accepted boundaries of clients being served. Will the Department of Labor push their new interpretation? We need to “stay tuned” on that one.




Remember it is our desire to reach the individual with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to see them grow and change through the power of our Risen Savior. That’s what people should see when they look at our programs. That is what our clients should be reflecting, and if that is the tone, I believe it will solve many of the problems. None of us want to spend time fighting with government. I hope these guidelines will help you so that you can spend your time reaching broken people.






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