UUA Benefit Recommendations

By Jan Gartner

Delegates hold bright orange voting cards aloft to vote in General Session


Consistent with Unitarian Universalist Principles that challenge us to give life to our faith by committing to justice and equity in human relations, the 1995 General Assembly adopted Fair Compensation Guidelines for all congregational staff and urged congregations to meet them. Amended over time, these Guidelines, consisting of recommended salaries and benefits, have helped congregations offer appropriate compensation to their staff.

In February 2020, the UUA shifted from Compensation Guidelines to Compensation Standards. The new UUA Compensation Standards include legal requirements for pay and benefit administration, while continuing to provide recommendations for salaries and benefits. This page outlines UUA Benefit Recommendations. (See our Compensation Resources page for information and resources on legal requirements. Salary recommendations for congregational staff are on our Salary Recommendations page.)

Summary of Recommended Benefits

  • Self-Employment Tax Offset (ministers only): 7.65% of Salary + Housing
  • Insurance (Employees scheduled to work 750 or more hours per year are eligible)
    • Health Insurance: Employer covers 80% of employee's premium + 50% of incremental cost of dependents for full-time. Suggested: 80%/50% for 30 hours/week and up. Any adjustment below 30 hours should be consistent across the staff team.
    • Long-Term Disability: Employer covers 100% of premium
    • Group Term Life: Employer covers 100% of premium
    • Dental: Employer covers 80% of employee's premium + 50% of incremental cost of dependents for full-time. Suggested: 80%/50% for 30 hours/week and up. Any adjustment below 30 hours should be consistent across the staff team.
  • Retirement Contribution: 10% of salary (S+H for ministers) for eligible employees. See this Knowledge Base article about eligibility for employer contributions. (While 10% is the UUA recommendation, the congregation is required to contribute in accordance with any commitments they have made to their Plan Sponsor, UUA or other. For congregations in the UU Retirement Plan, these commitments are outlined on your Employer Participation Agreement.)
  • Vacation: A month of paid vacation for professional staff, commensurate with prevailing local standards for others
  • Professional Development/Continuing Education Time
    • Study leave: four weeks for ministers, two to four weeks per year for professional staff. Continuing education time as appropriate for other staff.
    • Sabbatical leave: accrue one month per year of service for professional staff.
  • Professional Expenses: For professional staff, the greater of $8,000 (ministers)/$5,000 (non-ministers), prorated for part-time, OR 10% of salary (S+H for ministers). Appropriate continuing education and business-related expense funds for other staff.
  • Personnel Policies and Practices: Written personnel policies and a role or leadership group responsible for implementation of UUA Compensation Standards and healthy staffing practices.

Benefit Recommendations: Details, Explanations, and Resources

Ministers only: Self-Employment Tax Offset (Payment in lieu of FICA)

Recommendation: Add 7.65% of Salary + Housing to the minister's salary.

Explanation: Ministers are considered self-employed for the purposes of Social Security/Medicare taxation. Therefore, the pay 100% of this tax themselves (currently 15.3%), rather than splitting the amount with their employer. The self-employment tax offset compensates the minister for the extra tax they need to pay, "leveling the playing field" with non-ministerial staff.

Resources: Ministerial Compensation 101Ministerial Tax Status FAQ (PDF)

Insurance Recommendations

Congregations are expected to offer insurance benefits to all staff working 750 hours or more annually.

Health Insurance

Recommendation: Offer an employer-provided health insurance plan to each employee working 750 hours or more and their dependents, paying 80% of the health insurance premium for eligible full-time employees and 50% of the incremental cost for eligible dependents. The portion of the premium paid by the employer may be adjusted for less than full-time staff. Enrollment must be done within 30 days of hire or qualifying event. For employees on Medicare who are enrolled in Medicare Part A and Part B and elect the UUA’s Medicare Supplement, the Congregation will pay 80% of the employee’s premium for the Supplement and 50% of the additional cost of coverage for any enrolled dependents.

Explanation: Employer-provided health insurance remains the primary avenue to health care in America. Coverage should be made available either through the UUA Health Plan or another health insurance plan with comparable benefits. Some employees obtain their health insurance through their spouse. Congregations/Employers can reimburse employees on a tax-free basis for the incremental cost of participation in another group plan (e.g., spouse's employer's plan). Employees must not be reimbursed for individual (non-group) coverage, as this violates ACA provisions.

Resources: Benefits & Highlights of the UUA Health PlanUUA Health Insurance Premium Calculator, Insurance Plans & Taxes (about reimbursement of other insurance)

Long-Term Disability Insurance

Recommendation: Congregations pays 100% of the premium for eligible employees (750 hours per year or more) and imputes the cost as income on the employee's W-2 so that any disability benefits received by the employee are tax-free. Enrollment must be done within 60 days of hire or qualifying event.

Explanation: Loss of income due to disability can severely impact an employee and their dependents. It places an emotional, if not financial, burden on their employer. Long-Term Disability (LTD) replaces a 60% of one's pre-disability earnings after 90 days when income is lost due to disease or injury. It is among the most valuable components of a financial safety net.

Resources: Benefit Details for UUA LTDGeneral Information for UUA LTDImputing Premium Payments

Group Term Life/Accidental Death & Dismemberment (AD&D) Insurance

Recommendation: Congregation pays 100% of the premium for eligible employees (750 hours per year or more). Enrollment must be done with in 60 days of hire or qualifying event.

Explanation: Group Term Life insurance inexpensively provides a benefit to the named beneficiary if an employee (or enrolled dependent) dies while covered. The UUA Group Term Life Insurance Plan offers coverage with a face value equal to twice the annual salary of the employee, up to a maximum of $200,000. Spousal and dependent child coverage is also available.

Resources: Benefit Details for Life/AD&D InsurancePremiums and Tax Information for Life/AD&D Insurance

Dental Insurance

Recommendation: Offer eligible employees (750 hours/year or more) the opportunity to enroll in UUA Dental Plan or a comparable plan. Pay 80% of the premium for the employee, 50% of the incremental cost of dependent coverage. The portion of the premium paid by the employer may be adjusted for less than full-time staff.

Explanation: Having dental insurance results in savings to the insured because the base fee charged by dentists is substantially lower than the fee charged to those who lack insurance. Savings in the UUA Dental Plan are further amplified if the participant uses a participating dental provider.

Resources: UUA Dental InsuranceUUA Dental Benefit Details

Retirement Contribution

Recommendation: Provide a minimum employer contribution of 10% to eligible employees.

Explanation: Planning and saving for a comfortable retirement is a challenge for people from all walks of life. Tens of millions of American employers and employees are greatly under-funding what will be needed for even a modest retirement income. Many ministers enter this profession in mid-life, financing their ministerial education with retirement savings, and salaries for congregational staff are often lower than similar jobs in their communities. Given our commitments to justice and fairness, and the desire to ensure a dignified retirement for all congregational employees, providing a well-designed and well-managed retirement plan is a central provision of the UUA Benefit Recommendations.

The Unitarian Universalist (UU) Organizations Retirement Plan is an IRS qualified 401(a)/401(k) defined contribution, multiple employer, church retirement plan. This means that it was established for participating employers to provide retirement contributions to all of their employees who meet the governing Plan's provision regarding eligibility-service. In addition, all employees (18 years and older), regardless of hours or length of service, can save for retirement by enrolling and authorizing their own pre-tax salary reduction contributions.

When ministers' retirement contributions are in their denominationally-sponsored plan then, subject to IRS rules, a portion of their distributions from that denominational plan may qualify for tax-exempt treatment.

Resources: UU Organizations Retirement Plan General InformationEligibility

Special note: Retirement plans, including the UU Organizations Retirement Plan, contain detailed rules and specific eligibility criteria. See our Benefits Administration Checklist (Word) (PDF), as well as the Benefits Tune-up Workbook (PDF).


Recommendation: Provide one month of paid vacation as a minimum to exempt staff and vacation commensurate with prevailing local standards to other employees.

Explanation: Congregational staff members deserve to take time away from work without having to sacrifice pay.

Professional Development/Continuing Education Time

Recommendation: Provide adequate time for continuing education for all staff. For professional staff, this includes study leave and sabbatical leave.

  • Study leave: Time away each year for staff to enhance their skills and renew their spirits. One month per year is recommended for professional staff.
  • Sabbatical leave: Accrue one month of sabbatical leave for each year or service. Generally accrues on a four- to seven-year cycle.

Explanation: Congregational staff are leaders, modelers, and tone-setters for their congregations. Well-equipped, spirit-filled staff provide consistent, skilled, accountable leadership. This in turn builds capacity and ownership among the laity, enabling congregations to thrive.

The world of professional religious leadership is complex and ever-changing as religious life shifts in society, congregational needs evolve, innovations are tried and shared, and new best practices emerge. To serve competently, confidently, and faithfully, staff must be intentional about their professional growth and should receive support and encouragement from their congregations for their ongoing formation. In addition to strengthening the ministries of the congregation, regular professional development averts burnout, amplifies professionalism, and reinforces collegial relationships through shared learning.

Resources: Professional Development for the Staff of Unitarian Universalist Congregations

Professional Expenses

Recommendation: For ministers, provide the greater of $8,000, prorated for part-time, OR 10% of salary + housing. For professional administrative and program staff, provide the greater of $5,000, prorated for part-time, OR 10% of salary. For others, appropriate funding of continuing education and business expenses.

Explanation: See explanation under 5. Professional Development.

Resources: Professional Expense Allowances (LeaderLab article)

Personnel Policies and Practices

Recommendation: A designated role or group should be responsible for understanding and implementing UUA Compensation Standards, along with developing and maintaining written personnel policies covering employment basics such as new employee onboarding, job descriptions, and performance expectations.

Explanation: Like other employers, congregations will benefit from having personnel policies in writing so that staff are treated equitably and to avoid ad-hoc decisions or actions that could lead to allegations of favoritism or discrimination.

Resources: Congregations as Employers and Sample Personnel Policy Manual

About the Author

Jan Gartner

Jan is passionate about helping congregations live out their values within their walls!...

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