No rest for weary, but for some, overtime pay (maybe)

Throughout much of late 2015 and into early 2016, the US nonprofit sector was abuzz over the Department of Labor’s updates to federal overtime regulations. Online chatter died down during the heat of the presidential campaign, but attempts to circumvent the new rules continued. A cottage industry of sorts has sprung up as consultants and associations trot out strategies for mitigating the anticipated impact of the changes that take effect on December 1, 2016.

unbalanced_custom_text_13854To refresh your memory, the update states that employees earning less than $913 per week ($47,500 annually) will be entitled to overtime compensation, regardless of whether they are currently classified as executive, administrative, or professional (white-collar) workers. This is welcome news for the millions of employees who may now see larger paychecks. Nonprofit employers, however, don’t see the coming change that way.

The proposed regulations on overtime pay expose a dirty little secret of the nonprofit sector. And no, it isn’t that much of the nonprofit labor force is underpaid and overworked. Or that mission success too often comes at the expense of staff members’ financial and personal well-being.

Rather, the secret is this: Despite talk of wishing they could do more for the folks in the trenches, nonprofit leaders, including in faith-based settings, are willing to fight, lobby, and finagle to maintain the status quo.


Don’t get me wrong. I understand that shoe-horning overtime pay into already maxed-out budgets won’t be easy. However, as a writer for the Nonprofit Quarterly warns, “if exploiting your lowest paid workers is absolutely key to your enterprise model it may be that that model needs some rethinking.” All the more so if your organization does business in God’s name.

Organizational rhetoric touting justice and shalom for all rings hollow if not applied to staff as surely as to those served by an organization. There’s nothing just in exploiting the generosity of good-hearted staff for whom the work is as much a calling as it is a job. “Don’t muzzle the ox that is treading grain,” scripture warns. “A worker deserves his/her pay,” the Apostle Paul writes in his letter to Timothy.

The call to address pay structures presents a “salt and light” opportunity for faith-based organizations. If organizational leaders push back against fear-filled rhetoric and courageously do right by lower paid employees, this could be a breakthrough event for the Christian community.

December 1 is just around the corner. Boards and CEOs of ministry organizations can join the shout of “Impossible!” or choose instead to enact with a smile the Department of Labor’s ruling on overtime pay. My prayer is for the later.

Wouldn’t that be something? Wouldn’t that be a witness?



  1. Mike Arrambide says:

    When it comes to ministry, I prefer Paul’s NT example of spreading God’s word while using his “tent making” skills so as to not be a burden on those with whom he worked. Your “ox” example from scripture is hard to compare. The “worker deserves his pay” implies that there is agreement on pay for hours worked before the work begins. Again, this is a weak example, at best, for your use as justification on a Christian obligation to pay overtime for salaries less than $47K.
    Bottom line: this regulation will be addressed by increased efficiencies in management, yielding more “part-time” positions hewn from what used to be a full-time position. Remember the unintended consequences of ObamaCare? Lots of formerly 40 hour/wk positions were trimmed to 30 hour/weeks . . . to avoid the excessive costs of a government mandate.
    A Christian employer is free to compensate as God leads. The more government steps in his business, determining what is “right”, the less obvious will be his testimony of doing “the right thing”. The standard you advocate is one more nail in the coffin of Christians in business making a difference in our country.

  2. I agree, Mike, that “a Christian employer is free to compensate as God leads,” but I would be surprised if God would lead in the direction of exploitation. In personnel matters, as in any area of running a business or organization, I believe God leads in the direction of loving our neighbor as ourselves, including when neighbor is also an employee.

    I also agree that God’s people shouldn’t need government intervention to nudge us in the direction of doing what is right by those entrusted to our care, be they employees, family members, or recipients of services. Unfortunately, I’ve seen enough abuses of power and lapses in care to know that we humans are prone to putting self-interest before the interests of others.

    As for idea that ministry is best accomplished by “tent makers,” I don’t see how that could work in most settings. The model may be appropriate for some kinds of missionary work, but ministry is more than missions. The wide-ranging services provided in God’s name are more almost always more specialized, and time consuming than can be handled by part-time workers.

    In myriad ministry organizations across North America and around the world, people of faith are tackling tough challenges, addressing significant human needs, and acting as Jesus’ hands and feet to a needy world. I can’t imagine trying to staff a children’s home, a free clinic, a food bank, or a school (to name just tiny number of the thousand of ministry organizations to which people of faith have been called) completely with “tent makers.”

    If as is being talked about, the incoming administration rolls back the DOL ruling on overtime pay, I am hopeful that at least some faith-based nonprofits will move forward with the change even without the mandate. I hope they will do so as an expression of Christianly care for staff. As I ask at the end of my blog article, “Wouldn’t that be something? Wouldn’t that be a testimony?”

    • Mike Arrambide says:

      Yes . . . what we do as Christians IS a testimony, and unfortunately, actions do speak louder than words. I’ve heard it said, that “The law begins where love ends”. I’m not sure how you’re looking at “exploitation”, but I am sure that there is no room for it in Christian behavior toward employees. Interesting, isn’t it, how today’s government, ours, has taken over the tasks that were given us in Romans 12, and other scripture.
      Jesus gave a complex answer to the question, Who is my neighbor? It’s too easy to refer someone in need to others’ resources (shelter, welfare, etc.) rather than our own. This “benefit” trickles down to employer/employee relationships. After all, what is a “living wage” in a society that offers care to those who can’t, or won’t, work?

      • Thank you, Mike, for continuing the conversation and for pointing to Romans 12 as a beautiful description of how Christians are to behave toward one another.

        Occasionally, Christ-followers do rise to the challenge that Paul lays out for us. Verse 10 is a lovely rewording of Jesus’ command to love our neighbors, with the references to “kindly affection” “brotherly love,” and “in honor preferring one another.”

        However, we cannot/should not expect the world to follow the standard that Paul lays out in this chapter. On most days, most Christ followers fall short (at least I do). Perhaps that why God ordained governments, to do God’s work when God’s people (and others) won’t.

        I thank God everyday for the blessings I enjoy as an American citizen, including things as seemingly mundane as clean water, a reliable power grid, and good roads. When I hear from my Christian brothers and sisters in places like Zimbabwe, I am convicted for taking government-protected goods for granted. If I have to choose between a government that cares too much and one that doesn’t care at all, it’s an easy choice.

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