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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.
5 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.
If the termination is because of a job performance issue, there should be supporting documentation of performance appraisal, 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 the 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 electronic communication, email, or text, or it may warrant calling a quick staff meeting so employees have the opportunity to ask questions and are 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 communication to the people he interacted with.
Again, thinking through who needs to know what is an important step in the process.
People who manage other people are exposed to a lot of confidential information.
Particularly in a church environment, maintaining confidentiality is very important.
As managers, we want to defend our decisions but often those decisions are based on information that should not be shared with other people.
For instance, if an employee has been caught stealing from the church, that information should only be shared with those that have a need to know.
Be considerate of the departing employee and respect their right to privacy during a difficult time.
5. 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 issue?
- For instance, did the employee participate in an adequate onboarding process or specific job training?
- Was it a policy compliance issue?
- For instance, if the employee breached policy, could there have been a way to ensure all employees understand church policies and procedures?
- Was it a personality issue?
- Sometimes there are personality conflicts which is why it is so important to match employee social styles with the work they are hired to do. Make sure you put people-people in roles that interact with key customers, and detail-people in roles behind the scenes.
- Was it a productivity issue?
- Churches invest resources on employees and need to ensure that paid staff are doing the work of the ministry. Make sure you have productivity standards and good communication so employees understand what is expected of them, as well as the consequences for not meeting those expectations.
- Was it a candidate selection issue?
- The decision to hire a church employee is an expensive one. Make sure new hires are screened appropriately and try to avoid political hires (active members who have political savy).
Debriefing and trying to evaluate whether a change in interviewing practices, 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.
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