Firing Church Staff – 4 Things to Consider

One of the most difficult aspects of managing church employees is the inevitable reality that there will come a time when an employee needs to be terminated.

As Christians, we should be even more sensitive to how losing a job can impact an employee and their family.

This is coupled with the political fallout if the employee  and their extended family happen to be church members.

All of these dynamics make the decision, and process of firing church employees, a difficult one.

4 Things to Consider When Deciding to Terminate a Church Employee

1. Justification for Termination

The need to terminate an employee can be for any number of reasons, – reduction-in-force, poor performance, breach of policies or illegal acts.  Regardless, documenting the justification for the termination is important.

The decision to terminate an employee should be based on objective facts that are documented  every step along the way.  If the termination is because of a job performance issue, there should be supporting documentation of performance appraisals, employee goals along with supervisor communication notes.

If the termination is made because of an illegal act, or a breach in policy, there should be supporting documentation of the incident and notes on any communications with the employee that were made.

Employment laws are made to protect against discriminatory terminations so the decision to terminate cannot be based on employee age, gender, health status, race or disability.  If there are questions about the justification of a termination it is always wise to seek legal counsel.

2. Timing of Termination

Unless the employee performed an act that requires immediate removal from the church campus, the timing of the termination should be considered.

For example, if it is known that an employee is no longer performing at expected levels and a termination plan is being developed, think about the time of year, day of week and employee personal situation.

For example, most organizations avoid terminating employees during the holidays because of how it is perceived by the employee, the employee’s family and other staff members.

I have a friend whose job was eliminated, but the company she worked for waited until after my friend’s daughter’s wedding to tell her about the job elimination so there would not be added stress during the wedding planning.  Using common sense and thinking through the timing can have a huge impact on the response to a termination.

3. Communication of Termination

Delivering the news of a termination is probably one of the most difficult things a manager is required to do.  Regardless of the events leading up to a termination,  it is still a life altering event for an employee and should be treated as such.

The conversation should be delivered by the most appropriate level of leadership available and should provide the answers to any questions the employee might have.  For example, the employee should be told when they can expect their last paycheck, unpaid vacation time, if they are eligible for COBRA, when insurance lapses, etc.

Take the time to anticipate questions and make sure the answers are available for the employee.  In some situations, because most church employees are not eligible for unemployment benefits, an employee may be offered outplacement services to help them through the employment transition.

After the employee is told of the termination it is important to announce the termination to the rest of the church staff.  Depending on the position of the employee, this can be done either by an electronic communication, email or text, or it may warrant calling a quick staff meeting so employees have the opportunity to ask questions and be given leadership reassurance on the situation.

Some church positions may warrant communicating with church members if the absence of the employee will affect the congregational experience.

For example, if the volunteer coordinator leaves employment it may warrant a communication to the people he interacted with.  Again, thinking through who needs to know what is an important step in the process.

4. Lessons Learned 

Very often there are lessons learned when an employee is terminated so it is important to go back and debrief with leadership about what in the process or management failed for the employee.  Things that should be asked are:

  • Was it a training issues?
  • Was it a policy compliance issue?
  • Was it a personality issue?
  • Was it a productivity issue?
  • Was it a candidate selection issue?

Debriefing and trying to evaluate whether a change in interviewing, training or management practice could help avoid a similar termination – is time well spent.

The best way to avoid the need to terminate church staff is to have a great applicant screening process, good communication processes, clear job expectations and a structured and well managed performance management process.  Batting a thousand is not likely but providing the best environment for employee performance is a great first step.

photo by: herzogbr

Article originally posted December 2011, updated June, 2014.