UUA Benefit Recommendations

By Jan Gartner

Blue piggy bank resting on a laptop, with container of pens to the left and coffee mug on the right. Small plants in the back

This page provides Benefits Process Guidance as well as Recommended Benefit Levels. When providing benefits for your employees, both "how" (process) and "how much" (levels) are key to putting Unitarian Universalist values into action.

Benefits Process Guidance

For All Congregations

_____ We have reviewed the Recommended Benefit Levels (below).

_____ We have consistent benefit policies that apply across the whole staff team (ministers and others).

_____ Our benefit policies, including cost-sharing, are clear and transparent to all staff.

_____ We have strong administrative systems in place to ensure proper administration of benefits, including training and backups.

_____ In conversations with job applicants, we share what benefits we offer, including accurate information about the benefit level and the cost to the employee.

For Congregations Offering UUA Benefits: Additional Guidance

Reminder: Eligibility criteria for UUA benefit plans are set by plan rules, not by congregational policy.

_____ We have completed the Benefits Tune-up Workbook within the past year to ensure that we are providing UUA benefits in compliance with Plan rules (legal must-do's).

_____ We regularly remind all staff that they can make elective contributions to their UUA Retirement Plan account (regardless of hours or length of service).

_____ We remind eligible staff of Open Enrollment in November for UUA Health and Dental plans.

Recommended Benefit Levels

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

Important Reminder: Congregations participating in any UUA insurance plan must offer that plan 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. For full-time employees (30 hours/week and up suggested), cover 80% of the individual health insurance premium and 50% of the incremental cost for dependents. The portion of the premium paid by the employer may be adjusted for less than full-time staff through transparent, equitable policy. Enrollment must be done within 30 days of hire or qualifying event.

We strongly encourage congregations to offer the UUA Standard Plan (Gold level) or non-UUA equivalent, as this best protects the employee against high out-of-pocket medical expenses.

Explanation: Employer-provided health insurance remains the primary avenue to health care in the U.S. 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 may 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: Pay 100% of the premium for eligible employees and impute 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.

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: Pay 100% of the premium for eligible employees. Enrollment must be done with in 60 days of hire.

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 (generally offered at the employee's expense).

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

Dental Insurance

Recommendation: Offer the opportunity to enroll in UUA Dental Plan or a comparable plan. Pay 80% of the premium for the employee (30 hours/week and up suggested) and 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: Dental insurance results in savings to the insured because the base fee charged by dentists is substantially lower than that 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

Important Reminder: All employees (18 or older) are immediately eligible upon hire to authorize voluntary contributions through salary deferral. Remind employees regularly!

Recommendation: Provide a minimum employer contribution of 10% to eligible employees. This may be a combination of base + match. If offering a match, remind employees regularly of this opportunity.

Explanation: Planning and saving for one's post-employment years is challenging for many. Tens of millions of American employers and employees are greatly under-funding what will be needed for even a modest retirement income. Providing a well-designed, well-managed retirement plan is central to our benefit recommendations as an expression of our commitment to justice and dignity for congregational employees.

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 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 and reduce their current taxes by authorizing pre-tax salary reduction contributions.

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

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.


Recommendation: Provide the equivalent of four weeks of paid vacation as a minimum to exempt staff and vacation commensurate with prevailing local standards to other employees.

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


The UUA/UUMA model ministerial agreement (on our Employment Agreements page) includes provisions for sick, extended medical, parental, family, and bereavement leave. We urge congregations to create policies that offer comparable kindness and income protection to their non-ministerial staff, as well.

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. A total of four weeks per year is recommended for professional staff, as defined by the congregation.
  • Sabbatical leave: Accrue one month of sabbatical leave for each year or service. Generally accrues on a four- to seven-year cycle. We encourage congregations to consider providing sabbaticals for all staff.

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. Sabbaticals allow staff to press pause on their work for an extended time.

Resources: Staff Development and Support

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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