04.2 - Personnel Manuals

by Scott Selman

…let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.
Galatians 6:10 (NRSV)

Every local church presumably has at least one employee – the pastor! In this context, the word employee simply means someone that is paid a salary or an hourly wage, and whose earnings are reportable on Form W-2 at the end of the year. Some churches have more than one pastor, and many have one or more lay employees.  

Increasingly, local churches are finding that written personnel policies are very helpful in addressing a variety of employment-related questions. (Any time there is a conflict between The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church and a local church’s personnel manual, The Book of Discipline takes precedence.)  

According to The United Methodist Church Legal Manual prepared by the General Council on Finance and Administration, there are several advantages to having written personnel policies. First, personnel policies provide an opportunity to convey a strong message about acceptable and unacceptable conduct. For example, personnel policies should make it clear that the use of alcohol during work hours or while traveling on church business is strictly prohibited.

Second, written policies enable the local church to provide consistent and uniform information to all staff persons on a variety of common topics, including work hours, holidays, vacation and sick leave, benefits, etc. Consistency and uniformity will help ensure fairness in personnel decisions. Third, personnel policies may help reduce a church’s employment-related liability. Of course, after adopting personnel polices, it is important for the church to follow the policies.

Local churches should develop their personnel policies in consultation with their legal advisor, the staff-parish relations committee, and perhaps the church council. Decisions must be made concerning which employees will be covered by each policy (clergy/lay persons, exempt/non-exempt positions, and full-time/part-time staff), and what kinds of policies should be included.

Most personnel policies begin with an introduction that covers such matters as naming the local church and a statement that all employees of Local United Methodist Church are employed at will and not by contract. In addition, the introduction should indicate that the personnel manual is a statement of operating procedures and policies, and should not be construed as an employment contract.  

Common Personnel Policies

Common personnel policies in a typical personnel manual may include:

  • Operations. Operating policies may include information about matters such as regular business hours, lunch hours and breaks, bad weather guidelines, use of church equipment and property, work attire, parking, reimbursement of professional/business expenses, and the use of personal automobiles for church business.
  • Salary and Wage Administration. The areas discussed may include pay periods, overtime, direct deposit, and performance evaluation.
  • Benefits. Benefits information may address health insurance, disability, pension, life insurance, workers compensation, social security, holidays, vacation, personal days, sick leave, family and medical leave, military leave, bereavement, jury duty, and continuing education. In addition, churches may want to include a statement that benefits are subject to change.
  • Hiring Practices. The local church may want to state its policies about equal employment opportunity, posting of job openings, availability of job descriptions, reference requirements, hiring of relatives, promotions and transfers, probationary periods for new employees, immigration policies, and at-will employment.
  • Retirement. Guidelines may be provided concerning eligibility for retirement.
  • Resignation/Termination. Local churches may state their policies concerning timely and written notice of resignation/termination, severance pay, and causes for dismissal.
  • Miscellaneous Provisions. Personnel manuals may include policies concerning personnel files, misconduct, harassment, drug-free workplace, alcohol and tobacco use, technology (including the Internet, e-mail, and duplication of software), and respect for confidentiality.

The preceding information is intended only as a starting place in developing local church personnel policies. Local churches must determine whether these topics or others should be included in their personnel manual. Personnel manuals frequently go through several rounds of revision before being finalized. Once the final draft is approved, an effective date should be included.  

Current local church employees should be asked to sign an affidavit that they have received a copy of the personnel manual, and new employees should receive and sign for a copy of the personnel manual on their first day of employment. Sample personnel policies are included in The United Methodist Church Legal Manual  and are available in the Conference Treasurer’s office.

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