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Human Resources Questions about Virtual Operations

By Jan Gartner

graphic of green file folder with stylized stick figure of person

As congregations move into extended virtual operations, we are providing answers to common human resources questions related to remote work.

Be sure to see the information on our Congregations as Employers During COVID-19 page, which includes sections on Working From Home, Supervision and Teams, and more.

We will add to this page as new topics emerge. If you have a staff-related question about virtual operations that you expect is not unique to you, send it to comp@uua.org.

Compensation and Payroll

  1. We are paying staff who are not working, providing additional time off to all staff, and/or paying the staff while closing operations of the congregation for a week. Is it okay to do this? What should we know? How do we code it?
    We're glad to hear that you're taking care of your staff in this way!
    If providing additional time off to all staff, one option is to simply add to their regular bank of PTO or vacation and code it as usual. An alternative is to set up a new earnings category. Then you can separately track this time off and/or create different rules for it. For instance, you could provide 3 additional days off to each staff member which must be taken in the next three months. You can call this time anything you want; one of our UUA Compensation Consultants suggested calling it "grace time."
    Similarly, if you are paying a staff member who is unable to work because their responsibilities revolve around use of the building, or if you want to close operations for a week and pay the staff as if they were working, you can create new earnings categories to cover those situations.
    If you work with a payroll company, they should be able to help you. Be sure to communicate well with your staff about any new categories that they should be using on their timesheets and help them make appropriate use of new codes. (For example, if you are providing extra days off that must be taken by a certain date, make sure staff use those days before using their regular vacation time.)
  2. With the increased flexibility of working from home, some staff are having trouble tracking their hours and taking time off. What are some best practices?
    First, you must be very clear if each staff member is exempt or nonexempt under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). See our Exempt or Nonexempt? LeaderLab article. The "Classifying Your Workers" slide set covers the basics, including the ministerial exception (for staff who have essential religious duties).
    Unless their pay has changed, it is unlikely that any staff member's FLSA status will have changed. Remember, there is no salary threshold for those classified as exempt under the ministerial exception – it is based on duties only. For others, the minimum salary is $684/week, and there are also duties tests.
    For Exempt Staff
    Exempt staff are paid a regular salary. As an employer, you do not need to keep records of their hours. However, we encourage exempt staff to track their hours and to have conversations with their supervisors about workload and work/life balance.
    In general, questions about schedule and time off are handled in conversation with one's supervisor. Flexibility and variable workweeks are common. If a staff member wants to frontload their workweek in order to take a long weekend without dipping into their vacation bank, is that alright – on occasion, or on a regular basis? It depends on the needs of the congregation, any relevant personnel policies, and the supervisor's perspective. Especially during the pandemic, we encourage supervisors to be flexible while encouraging staff to make use of their earned time off.
    For Nonexempt Staff
    Nonexempt staff can be paid by the hour or on salary. Regardless, you must keep records of their daily and weekly hours worked. Additionally, you must ensure that they receive overtime pay if they work more than 40 hours in a workweek (or per state law) and that they receive minimum wage based on their actual hours worked each week.
    Work time and non-work time can be hard to separate, especially if attending to family needs results in smaller blocks of uninterrupted work. Nonexempt staff should do their best to submit hours that accurately reflect the time they are working. Some staff (exempt and nonexempt alike) find it helpful to use an app such as Toggl. Nonexempt staff do not need to indicate time in and time out, just a total number of hours worked each day and for the week as a whole.
    Again, we encourage supervisors to be flexible with their staff with respect to work hours and time off.

Administration

  1. What do we need to know if we're hiring someone to work remotely, especially from another state or locality?
    • In general, labor regulations are based on the state (or locality) the employee is working from.Many states, and some localities, have labor laws that go beyond federal requirements, including higher minimum wage, laws about paid/unpaid breaks, definitions of who can be classified as exempt, state-required withholdings, payday frequency, illegal interview questions, and much more. It is important to be aware of the laws of the state in which your employee resides.
      Onboarding and Payroll Advice
    • Regarding Form I-9 completion, the US Department of Citizenship and Immigration Services has issued Temporary Policies Related to COVID-19.
    • Contact your payroll company for guidance on properly setting up the employee's payroll.
    • Remote work and tax withholding: If you worked remotely due to Covid-19, a state tax surprise could be coming (CNBC)
    • Find out if your state has reciprocity with the state the employee is working from, which simplifies state income tax withholding.
    • Learn about Workers' Compensation and statutory programs like short-term disability and paid family leave in the state in which the employee resides. Be clear with your own Workers' Comp carrier about the physical work location of out-of-state employees.
    • Advise the employee to seek guidance on their situation from an accountant and/or financial advisor.
      UUA Health Plan
      UUA Health Plan premiums vary according to location. In general, Health Plan premiums are based on where the employee resides
  2. Should we modify job descriptions?
    Truth be told, most job descriptions are too specific.
  • For staff who are continuing in their positions, with the same overall purpose, same general scope of responsibility, and same hours, review and refresh their job descriptions to make sure they articulate overall areas of responsibility and key tasks. Avoid a level of detail that may change due to the pandemic or over time.
  • For staff whose hours have increased or decreased temporarily, create a temporary job description reflecting the new hours and changes in the scope of the position.
  • Some staff are being creatively repurposed to best meet the needs of the congregation and membership at this time. It may be temporary and/or responsibilities may continue to evolve. A simple job description can provide clarity about expectations – and can be changed as circumstances warrant. If you state the purpose and responsibilities in fairly general terms, you will get better mileage from your job descriptions.

The UUA's Position Description Template provides guidance and examples for job descriptions, in general.

General HR Questions

  1. Do you have advice about employees serving two or more congregations at the same time?
    • An employee can be hired by two or more congregations in different ways:
    •  Completely independently,
    • Through an intentionally shared staffing arrangement, but with separate job descriptions and employment agreements, or
    • With a single job description and employee agreement
      Clear communication all around about expectations, work hours, and time off is key to making these arrangements work well.
      About UUA Benefits
      If more than one of the congregation is participating in a particular UUA benefit plan, hours are aggregated for the purpose of determining employee eligibility for benefits. Retirement Plan contributions are made separately by each congregation. For UUA insurance plans, one congregation is invoiced and the other reimburses as appropriate. Email comp@uua.org for details.
  2. How do we manage phone, internet, and other equipment needs for employees working from home?
    • Find out what each employee needs in order to work safely, comfortably, and well. A second computer monitor? A higher quality microphone? A printer with fax capabilities? Are employees working from home using their own cell phones or landlines? Do they need an internet upgrade?
      In some cases, the best solution is for the congregation to provide the equipment. For equipment that belongs to the congregation:
    • Keep a log of congregational property that each employee has at home.
    • If employees are using equipment that belongs to the church, check with your insurance company so that you are clear about coverage and protocol in the case of damage or loss.
    • What do your personnel policies say about use of communication tools provided by the congregation? (See UUA Sample Personnel Policies, pages 12-13.) Does the policy need any augmenting or adjusting for work from home situations?
      Often staff will be using their own equipment and resources:
    • What do your personnel policies say about an employee's use of their own devices? (See UUA Sample Personnel Policies, pages 12-13.)
    • Create a simple, reasonable reimbursement policy to cover personal phone and internet costs. In the wider world, some employers pay a fixed amount while others reimburse employees based on a proportion of individual employees' actual costs. Include your staff team in a conversation about the best approach.
    • Do your policies and procedures work well for those who most need them? Take care to avoid assumptions. For instance, you may already own a smartphone and a printer, but not everyone does.
    • In their article on Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies, the Society for Human Resource Management offers many suggestions. While you may not need a lengthy policy, it is important to communicate basic expectations and to consider appropriate information safeguards.
  3. Can/should staff with professional expense lines use them to pay for equipment to enhance their home office/worship setup?
    An office chair, a ring light, a microphone - all of these are legitimate professional expenses. At the same time, we believe that home office needs should ideally be funded by the congregation - just as if a new chair, light, or microphone were needed for use in the building itself.
    ​​​​​​​Because of lighter travel during the pandemic, your staff may now find that their expense lines can easily accommodate home office purchases. If it makes sense to all concerned, that is fine. However, in general we suggest that these be funded as congregational equipment purchases.

About the Author

Jan Gartner

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

For more information contact comp@uua.org.