Understanding Personnel Issues

Q.My church has about 175 members. We have always had a fulltime minister and part-time secretary and custodian, but we began paying our half-time director of religious education about ten years ago and recently began paying a quarter-time music director.

These five employees are responsible to five different committees and we have recently begun getting inquiries about the possibility of offering benefits to part-timers. The minister says that we need a Personnel Committee and written personnel policies, that the church needs to be acting like a business employer, not a volunteer group that is compensating a few people.

So my questions are: 1. Where should the Personnel Committee fall in the church hierarchy? Is it completely separate from other committees or would it make sense to have a representative from each of the committees that supervises an employee now? 2. Should we have written personnel policies?

A. Many congregations are realizing they have been derelict in not having a separate Personnel Committee to propose personnel policies, make recommendations on compensation and benefits, and be available to mediate in situations where appropriate, says Rev. Ralph Mero, director of the Office of Church Staff Finances for the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA).

"It is best," he notes, "if the Personnel Committee is made up of three to five persons who have standing and credibility in the congregation and who are willing to serve for several years."

Such a Committee's first responsibility is to draft detailed policies covering job descriptions, hiring practices, compensation ranges, continuing education, insurance and other benefits, vacation leave, establishing an Accountable Reimbursement Plan for professional expenses, and a process for how employees shall be evaluated on a regular basis. Policies about whether church members can be hired as employees and how salary increases will be determined should also be written in advance of need. These policies should be formally adopted by the Board of Trustees.

One critical function of the Committee is to be sure the church is in compliance with federal and state laws regarding non-discrimination, payment of Social Security and other taxes, worker's compensation insurance, and safe working conditions. "Some easy to use off-the-shelf software programs exist for writing personnel policies, and these can help make sure all the legal bases are touched," says Mero.

Donald Hoskins, treasurer of the Unitarian Church of Harrisburg, PA (339 members), adds: "I recommend you seek out someone familiar with personnel issues for advice and then write job descriptions and evaluation procedures. Consult the UUA Congregational Handbook and get a copy of the annual privately published Church and Clergy Tax Guide, which describes tax and reporting issues surrounding benefits. Once you pay salaries and wages, you are in a business and need to have some minimum business standards to avoid problems."

About the Author

  • Donald E. Skinner was the founding editor of the InterConnections newsletter for congregational leaders and a senior editor of UU World from 1998 until his retirement in 2014. He is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa, Kansas.

For more information contact interconnections@uua.org.

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