This page has been created by the Committee on Career Development and Support and the staff of AGO Headquarters to share with readers the best guidance AGO has found on a variety of issues resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic that are affecting organists. For answers to questions on employment issues, we are especially grateful to committee member Doris Dabrowski, an employment law attorney licensed in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
If you have additional questions you would like addressed, please be sure your question is not already addressed, and then use the comment form at the bottom of this page. Please note that specific guidance needed for your particular circumstances may differ from what would apply in other situations; for that reason, the AGO cannot issue comprehensive guidance on what is advisable for every situation.
Q & A for Musicians’ Questions during the Covid-19 Pandemic
Can a part-time or full-time church musician employee qualify for unemployment benefits?
The CARES Act created the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, which provides benefits for independent contractors, the self-employed, church workers and others who lost work due to COVID-19 but lack insured status for regular unemployment benefits. Most gig workers and church employees probably will depend on PUA rather than regular unemployment compensation. The state unemployment agencies process claims for PUA benefits.
Generally, church employees and gig workers are ineligible for regular unemployment benefits although some states may allow churches to voluntarily contribute to unemployment insurance. The individual worker should check eligibility provisions in the state of employment. The United States Department of Labor’s website, https://oui.doleta.gov, has links to individual state unemployment office websites. For another helpful resource, click https://fileunemployment.org/unemployment-guide/unemployment-eligibility.
Employees or gig workers should apply for regular unemployment or pandemic unemployment assistance benefits even if in doubt about eligibility. The state agency processing claims must render a decision about eligibility. If benefits are denied, the applicant can appeal. An employee or gig worker may engage legal counsel in the state for representation in the appeal. To find a lawyer in your state, you may check the website of the website of the National Employment Lawyers Association, www.nela.org or Workplace Fairness, www.workplacefairness.org.
How does the current stimulus bill affect me?
The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) extends pandemic unemployment assistance (PUA) and regular unemployment benefits for an additional period ending September 4, 2021. ARPA extended Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC) Benefits, providing for an additional $300/week for individuals receiving either regular unemployment or pandemic unemployment assistance.
ARPA extended Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation (MEUC) through September 4, 2010. Mixed workers have a combination of income reported on a W-2 and income from self-employment. To be eligible, mixed workers must demonstrate at least $5,000 in net income from self-employment in the tax year. MEUC adds $100 to regular unemployment benefits. It is not applicable to PUA benefits. $10,200 of unemployment benefits received in 2020 are exempt from federal income tax.
For workers of employers providing health insurance, information about paid COBRA health insurance premiums is available at the following link: https://www.shvs.org/cobra-assistance-in-the-american-rescue-plan-act-a-guide-for-states/. Federal COBRA requires sponsoring employers to allow employees and beneficiaries to continue group health insurance by paying premiums. While federal COBRA applies to employers with at least 20 employees, some states have mini COBRA laws that apply to small employers.
My church is closed, however the clergy has asked me to record music for services that will be streamed over the internet. I have been informed that I will not receive compensation for these recordings and will receive payment for playing live services once the church reopens. Should I be receiving compensation?
Yes, whether you are performing live or through online streaming, you should be compensated. Please review the fact sheet regarding the Unemployment Insurance Provisions in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
I have two part-time jobs, one where I receive a W-2 and the other I receive a 1099 tax form for a church job. Since I am not working as an organist now due to COVID-19 but still receive income from my other job, can I qualify to receive benefits for UI or PUA? I make approximately the same amount for each job, meaning I have lost half my earnings.
The employee can apply for benefits; she must report her earnings from the job that is continuing. She may qualify for a partial benefit. Eligibility and the amount of benefits depends on the unemployment law of her state.
I’ve two (2) jobs in North Carolina. One is permanent full-time (40 hrs.). The other is part-time (church musician). Due to the coronavirus, I’m still working full-time, but, the musician hours are no longer. Can I draw unemployment from my part-time job, although, I’m still working full-time?
Eligibility for unemployment benefits is governed by state law. State laws typically have a provision for partial benefits. A link to state unemployment office websites is available on the website of the U.S. Department of Labor, https://oui.doleta.gov.
Church employees must beware of the exemption of churches from the obligation to pay unemployment tax. I understand that some states may allow churches to voluntarily contribute to the unemployment fund.
If the unemployment is due to COVID-19, a church employee should apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.
I am the Organist/Music Director at a church. Now that we are moving into different phases of reopening, my church would like me to do recordings with the choir, along with editing. I understand that my job is to provide music for each service; however, I feel that editing is an additional service. It requires a lot of time in addition to hosting rehearsals before recording. Should I ask for additional compensation? Recording and editing are other beasts.
Compensation is due for all work performed for the employer. The location of performing the work or the method of transmitting the work product does not affect the obligation to pay for services performed. A salaried employee who continues to receive a salary is not necessarily entitled to additional pay for a performance that is streamed, unless the agreement between the musician and employer provides for supplemental compensation for broadcast, recorded or streamed performances.
State wage payment and/or wage and hour laws may provide some additional remedies.
If the musician is salaried, the employer is simply obligated to pay the agreed upon salary for all work performed. With few exceptions, employers may not dock the salary because an employee left early. In this example, the employee is the winner. On the other hand, the salaried employee may be on the short end of the bargain if the amount of required labor is particularly heavy to perform job duties.
The answer depends on the terms of the agreement between the musician and the church. The musician may have a good argument for more pay if the agreement specifies limited duties which are exceeded by the streaming activity. Beware of duty descriptions including “other activities as assigned” or words to that effect.
If the employee is paid hourly or by some other by some other unit of measure, the pay is due for all time expended, regardless of the nature of the activity.
How can services be web-streamed or recorded and posted online without violating copyright laws?
Please see this excellent article by cathedral musician and Selah Publishing Co., Inc. president David Schaap, “Livestreaming your Church Services: Are You Doing it Legally?” that appeared in the July 2020 issue of TAO.
Is it okay to play a pipe organ during COVID? There’s debate in our church whether, since this is a wind instrument, it will blow Covid particles around. Research shows that minute Covid droplets attach themselves to dust particles and disperse in the air for 2-4 hours. The organ is in an enclosed chamber 10 feet above the floor of the balcony, and 25 feet above the congregation in a very large building. The blower is located in a tower well above the balcony. Thanks.
Most of the expert health guidance regarding wind instruments and Covid is about instruments where the wind source is provided by the lungs of the player, such as in playing the flute, clarinet, trumpet, trombone, etc., not mechanically winded instruments like the pipe organ. While individuals do not supply personal breath to provide wind for a pipe organ, many have wondered about the air circulation properties of the wind in a pipe organ. The AGO has consulted experts on organ design and engineering through the American Institute of Organbuilders on this topic, and we are grateful to those who have provided helpful replies in a compilation of responses which can be accessed by clicking HERE.
This page was last updated on May 14, 2021.