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Pastor laid off--question about severance pay


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#1 Harriet Vane

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Posted 25 February 2012 - 09:29 AM

Let's say the pastor of a small, local congregation is laid off. His work record has been stellar and he has never gotten a negative performance review. He is NOT being fired for any indiscretion or failure. Church offers for him to work another three months, after which they will grant a three-month severance package.

Is the church required to pay the severance in a lump sum, or can they legally disburse payments on a monthly basis?

Having offered this package to the pastor, let's say some would like said pastor to stop work prior to the original cut-off date. If the pastor is asked to stop working earlier than originally agreed, is the church still legally required to pay according to the original package offered (salaried work for three months, followed by a three-month severance pay)? Is the church legally required to disburse payment in a lump sum, or can the church legally disburse payment on a month-to-month basis?

#2 Carol in Cal.

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Posted 25 February 2012 - 09:34 AM

My guess is that you won't get a simple answer to this. The right to religious freedom (free exercise of religion) trumps most employment law. So the question would probably turn on the specifics of the original offer, both written and stated.

From a best practices standpoint, the cleanest thing to do would be to let the pastor go immediately and pay him the full amount (6 months) at that time, unless that would stop his health insurance instead of extending it for the full time.

In our church, we have doctrines that make this pretty difficult in the first place--the belief in the Office of Holy Ministry and the Doctrine of the Divine Call would make a simple 'layoff' quite difficult and fairly shocking.

#3 kalanamak

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Posted 25 February 2012 - 09:49 AM

Do pastors not sign contracts?

#4 LMA

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Posted 25 February 2012 - 10:05 AM

It depends on the contract. Almost all states are "at will" in regards to employment meaning you can be fired at any time by an employer; you do not need cause to be let go. Severance pay is usually at the good will of the employer unless it's in a contract. If this situation was in a corporate company, you would be let go immediately and, if there is severance pay, you get all of it at once usually. You are off the health insurance by the end of the month. So if the pastor has been offered this, it is in the best interest of his financial situation to just take the severance all at once. He may or may not qualify for unemployment. If the church did not pay the employment tax (not sure if churches have to pay it), he would not qualify for unemployment.

Edited by LMA, 25 February 2012 - 10:08 AM.


#5 Word Nerd

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Posted 25 February 2012 - 10:25 AM

When my department was absorbed and I was laid off, I got a check for what I was owed for work already done as well as a bonus in the amount of two weeks' pay immediately. The rest of the severance package was spread out over the number of months of severance I was given; I got a check every time they distributed paychecks. (This was also listed in the agreement I signed.)

#6 simka2

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Posted 25 February 2012 - 10:30 AM

My guess is that you won't get a simple answer to this. The right to religious freedom (free exercise of religion) trumps most employment law. So the question would probably turn on the specifics of the original offer, both written and stated.

From a best practices standpoint, the cleanest thing to do would be to let the pastor go immediately and pay him the full amount (6 months) at that time, unless that would stop his health insurance instead of extending it for the full time.

In our church, we have doctrines that make this pretty difficult in the first place--the belief in the Office of Holy Ministry and the Doctrine of the Divine Call would make a simple 'layoff' quite difficult and fairly shocking.


I think this is the best solution. It sounds like he has not done anything wrong, and even then the three month severance is within the realm of normal.

It is probably not what you have to do, but it would be wise. Any future pastor's will want to know how previous ministers were treated upon their exit.


Edited: In my experience severance was distributed in the same manner as the regular salaried check. In our case it came every two weeks and all benefits were intact.

Edited by simka2, 25 February 2012 - 10:34 AM.


#7 Chris in VA

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Posted 25 February 2012 - 10:30 AM

Interesting idea, "laying off" a pastor. Never heard of it. :bigear:

#8 MamaSheep

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Posted 25 February 2012 - 10:35 AM

It sounds like a good question for a lawyer to me. Other than that I'm afraid I'm no help at all. Our clergy work on an unpaid volunteer basis, so there's no hiring, firing, contracts, payments, or benefits for anyone to worry about. But it does seem like when it comes to contract and employment law there are so many possible twists and turns that it's just generally a good idea to get professional advice.

#9 Stellalarella

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Posted 25 February 2012 - 10:55 AM

Personal experience: Dh kept working for the agreed-upon months then x months of agreed-upon severance kicked in.

Gotta tell you though, that if this is your dh being laid off, that it is pretty emotionally straining to keep working for months at a job where you know your position/department is being eliminated.

If you value sanity more than $, let go of the job and trust God to provide.

#10 Harriet Vane

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Posted 25 February 2012 - 11:19 AM

Personal experience: Dh kept working for the agreed-upon months then x months of agreed-upon severance kicked in.

Gotta tell you though, that if this is your dh being laid off, that it is pretty emotionally straining to keep working for months at a job where you know your position/department is being eliminated.

If you value sanity more than $, let go of the job and trust God to provide.


Not my dh, though this is a dear friend of mine. It's hard to watch this go down. I would love it, for his sake, if the church would give him the money and let him go.

#11 Harriet Vane

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Posted 25 February 2012 - 11:22 AM

Interesting idea, "laying off" a pastor. Never heard of it. :bigear:


Honestly, I don't really know how to describe it. It's a bad decision based on flawed reasoning. All I can say is that this person is not being fired for work performance (which has been stellar) nor for any personal integrity issues nor for financial reasons. This action wouldn't be legal in a corporate setting.

#12 indigomama

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Posted 25 February 2012 - 11:26 AM

DH left a associate pastorate position,it was a small church and he wasn't technically full time. They volunteered to give us a severance package, it was given over a three month time period. It was a little awkward though, to be honest.

#13 ChristyB in TN

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Posted 25 February 2012 - 11:31 AM

I think it is a terrible idea to keep him on for 3 more months. It is not good for him or the church. My advice is to give him 3 month's severance and wish him well. No one can have their heart in something when they know how temporary they are in a position. Also, I don't go to church but I grew up in a minister's family. I really know nothing.

#14 OrganicAnn

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Posted 25 February 2012 - 11:35 AM

I'm not an expert. Just my simplistic understanding is the severance arrangement is often a written contact itself. It would determine if you can get paid in a lump sum or over time. You agree to the pay arrangement and they sign an agreement for several things - that they won't sue the company for being let go (so they don't have to worry about discrimination or other wrongful firing complaints) and the severance payment are the usual main points. There may be lots of other points - confidentiality (regarding the reasons for the lay off), confidentiality (regard details of the organizations operations), health insurance info, etc.

If there is no severance contract, then it is just up to the individuals involved.

#15 4blessingmom

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Posted 25 February 2012 - 12:46 PM

Google "forced terminations" and "forced exits" in regards to the ministry. It'll give you some info to sift through, in hopes of being *there* for him and his family.


This isn't likely a "lay-off." It's probably a power-struggle. If so, then his family needs to be safe first. (No sending little kids off to Sunday School with a teacher who is gossiping behind their Daddy's back.;) I've seen some horrific junk happen to kids of pastors/deacons in the midst of a forced exit.:glare: In fact, if wife & kids can go to a neighboring church for a while it might be best...if not, kids need to be attached to momma's hip for a few months.)


The best hope would be for a good severance package (the full 6mo!!!) b/c finding a new pastorate takes much more time than most other jobs. 6mo is on the short side of a job search. It often takes more than a year. In the meantime, no one is hiring an MDIV for other stuff in this economy (ask how I know:glare:). *This* is all exacerbated by the low income most pastors make....b/c they simply cannot save enough to prepare for a forced exit (though they happen!).


#1 - Help him find a new job. He needs something local and fast to keep them afloat while he searches for a new position.

#2 - He needs to be connected with someone. A retired pastor, old seminary buddy, etc...SOMEONE who can be a sounding board for the junk he has been going through. Depression is a big risk!

#3 - If he needs to leave a parsonage, he will need a place to rent.

#4 - His wife needs a friend too.



If you (and his other friends) can help by connecting him with people who are hiring and renting homes, it will greatly ease the stress. Simply remaining friends is the biggest help you can give.


fwiw - I think it's best to give the severance in a lump sum. They may need to move, needing the money for deposits and moving trucks, etc...


Oh, and that's another thing. They will maybe need people to help them move. When dh and I were in this position, we didn't have enough $ to hire people to help us move. It was dh, me, and our 8yo ds loading the truck.

#16 4blessingmom

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Posted 25 February 2012 - 12:52 PM

Honestly, I don't really know how to describe it. It's a bad decision based on flawed reasoning. All I can say is that this person is not being fired for work performance (which has been stellar) nor for any personal integrity issues nor for financial reasons. This action wouldn't be legal in a corporate setting.




What worries me most is that the church (probably) has a very unhealthy dynamic going on. The pastor & his family will move on and be just fine (though it will be painful for a while). But, this church will simply do this again to the next pastor that comes along unless some things change.


If he hasn't agreed to leave yet, I would advise him to ask for some time to pray about it. Then seek counsel from a few seasoned pastors.


Advise him to find a neutral mediator, someone who can sit in on a few meetings between him and the people who want him gone. This should be a local person (someone whose opinion matters!!!), but not someone who has vested interest (not a church member, or a church members relative/boss/employee).


It's not fair (to him OR the other church members who probably don't want to see him go!!!!) to simply let this fly.


sigh!:crying:

#17 ThatCyndiGirl

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Posted 25 February 2012 - 01:20 PM

Tell him and his wife about the Clergy Project http://clergyproject.org/

They may need their (free) services soon, if not already. :grouphug:

I've never heard of a pastor being 'laid off'. That term typically means that the laid off person will be brought back at some point.

Also, why the term "forced exit" instead of termination or firing? Don't they mean the same thing?

#18 elfgivas

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Posted 25 February 2012 - 01:20 PM

if he is part of a main-line denomination, then there are rules that need to be followed. the presbytery or diocese will have a committee and/or staff person who will advise the congregation and minister on how to proceed.

it is in an unaffiliated congregation, then that's harder. some of the main denominational rules might be a good place to start.

eg. from the united church of christ
http://www.ucc.org/a...of-the-ucc.html

156 When a pastor or a Local Church decides to terminate the pastoral relationship, notice of the decision is sent to the Conference Minister and the Association. The Association takes action appropriate to the dissolution of the pastoral relationship. The Conference Minister promptly informs the Office of General Ministries of these actions.

ie. it is the conference who deals with it which makes it less awkward and more fair.

for the united church of canada
http://www.united-ch...pguidelines.pdf

Disciplinary Action/Termination
In any case where a concern exists that may require disciplinary action, up to and including termination of the pastoral relationship, the M&P Committee must contact the presbytery and the Conference personnel minister at the earliest possible opportunity in order to ensure that the required procedures are followed, and protection is provided for all parties involved. The process for changing pastoral relationship for ministry personnel is found in The Manual, sections 046–047.

termination without cause from the united church manual:
046.1 Pastoral Charge Decision to Request Ending of Pastoral Relationship Without Cause. A Pastoral Charge may, by decision of a meeting of the Pastoral Charge, request ending of a pastoral relationship without cause. The meeting shall be called and convened in accordance with sections 047, 048, and 049. The decision shall be made by a majority vote of those in full membership who are present and voting. The decision shall propose an effective date at least ninety (90) days following the date of the meeting. The decision may propose an earlier effective date, subject to the approval of the Presbytery. The secretary of the meeting shall immediately give notice of the decision to: each Ministry Personnel in pastoral relationship with the Pastoral Charge; all employees of the Pastoral Charge; and the Secretary of the Presbytery.

and it goes on.....

what happens frequently is that the termination date is 90 days hence, BUT the pastor is put on paid leave, and substitutes and/or intentional interim ministers (who are trained to help congregations with unhealthy dynamics and/or in conflict situations - this is what i did for a while, but burnout is high...).

hth,
and blessings,
ann

ps. i haven't seen a case yet that was well served by the clergy staying in the pulpit after termination without cause...... having the 90 days of paid leave helps with lots of things. if the congregation is going to do this, then its okay for them to not have their cake and eat it too, kwim?

#19 jdahlquist

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Posted 25 February 2012 - 01:29 PM

Honestly, I don't really know how to describe it. It's a bad decision based on flawed reasoning. All I can say is that this person is not being fired for work performance (which has been stellar) nor for any personal integrity issues nor for financial reasons. This action wouldn't be legal in a corporate setting.


This depends on state employment laws. In Texas you can be let go for any reason, unless it is a reason protected by law such as race, gender, etc. In other words, if the boss doesn't like the color socks you wear you can be terminated. A reason doesn't even have to be supplied.

#20 4blessingmom

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Posted 25 February 2012 - 01:34 PM

Also, why the term "forced exit" instead of termination or firing? Don't they mean the same thing?



No, they don't mean the same thing.

Termination and firing are done for reasons that are expressed plainly and openly. (Doing something wrong...usually.)


A forced exit implies that this is merely a power-struggle...a *manipulation* performed by a small sect in the church (1-5 people usually). It's about the power that this small group (actually, the ring-leader of the group) holds.

The pastor is in a vulnerable position b/c he often has to make unpopular decisions for the good of the *entire* church (not just 5 people), and these people know that the pastor's livelihood makes a good "Ace in the Hole" when push comes to shove. Often, the pastor genuinely loves the church and would rather leave quietly than cause a kerfluffle. But, no matter if he stays or leaves, that small sect of people who are forcing this exit will continue to cause problems unless other church members realize what is going on and decide to put a stop to it.





A forced exit includes emotional abuse, IOW. When I hear that there is no real reason, no logical decisions...I jump to the conclusion that it's a decision made secretly by a handful of people, with the real reasons remaining hidden....enacted via abusive tactics.

#21 AuntieM

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Posted 25 February 2012 - 01:34 PM

Oh strider, that is so sad. :grouphug:

I agree with those who have said it is best to allow this man and his family to find fresh start as quickly as possible, while making all possible provision for continued health insurance coverage.

#22 simka2

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Posted 25 February 2012 - 01:50 PM

Google "forced terminations" and "forced exits" in regards to the ministry. It'll give you some info to sift through, in hopes of being *there* for him and his family.


This isn't likely a "lay-off." It's probably a power-struggle. If so, then his family needs to be safe first. (No sending little kids off to Sunday School with a teacher who is gossiping behind their Daddy's back.;) I've seen some horrific junk happen to kids of pastors/deacons in the midst of a forced exit.:glare: In fact, if wife & kids can go to a neighboring church for a while it might be best...if not, kids need to be attached to momma's hip for a few months.)


The best hope would be for a good severance package (the full 6mo!!!) b/c finding a new pastorate takes much more time than most other jobs. 6mo is on the short side of a job search. It often takes more than a year. In the meantime, no one is hiring an MDIV for other stuff in this economy (ask how I know:glare:). *This* is all exacerbated by the low income most pastors make....b/c they simply cannot save enough to prepare for a forced exit (though they happen!).


#1 - Help him find a new job. He needs something local and fast to keep them afloat while he searches for a new position.

#2 - He needs to be connected with someone. A retired pastor, old seminary buddy, etc...SOMEONE who can be a sounding board for the junk he has been going through. Depression is a big risk!

#3 - If he needs to leave a parsonage, he will need a place to rent.

#4 - His wife needs a friend too.



If you (and his other friends) can help by connecting him with people who are hiring and renting homes, it will greatly ease the stress. Simply remaining friends is the biggest help you can give.


fwiw - I think it's best to give the severance in a lump sum. They may need to move, needing the money for deposits and moving trucks, etc...


Oh, and that's another thing. They will maybe need people to help them move. When dh and I were in this position, we didn't have enough $ to hire people to help us move. It was dh, me, and our 8yo ds loading the truck.


:iagree: and google "forced resignations." This is a really ugly thing done in the religious community. It is a way t get away with things that could not be done in more "normal" situations. :glare:

#23 forty-two

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Posted 25 February 2012 - 02:02 PM

We've been there, and it sucks :grouphug:.

We're in the same denomination as Carol in Cal, and despite the official doctrinal and contractual protections, forced resignations are more common than you'd think :glare:. Most pastors don't fight it, because who wants to have their ministry (possibly family) dragged through the mud? Agree with 3blessingmom that usually it's b/c of a small group - most of the congregation is blindsided, too. And I can't imagine continuing to serve after getting the news - we did go to a farewell lunch, for the sake of the vast majority that had nothing to do with it, but otherwise made a clean break. We went to a different church - the pastor there was so wonderful, such a friend to Dh :) - and otherwise stayed far away. Getting a job was hard - we were at the poverty line for a year and half, until he got another call. Agree that depression is likely - was for Dh :(.

I'm glad they've got you as a friend.

Eta: we got 6 weeks severance and were glad to get it - could have easily been nothing. Drained our savings entirely, and we were grateful for help from family and friends, but made it.

#24 mytwomonkeys

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Posted 25 February 2012 - 02:20 PM

that really stinks for your friend:grouphug: i agree with a pp that said the pastor really needs this full 6 months to begin pursuing a new position. to hire for a senior pastor position is a very lengthy process. my husband is a worship pastor and he has never been offered a job in under 4 months of interviewing with the same church. it is a very lengthy and detailed process. i can only imagine how much more entailed it would be for a lead pastor position. i pray things get resolved quickly. what a difficult situation.

#25 Carol in Cal.

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Posted 25 February 2012 - 08:56 PM

We've been there, and it sucks :grouphug:.

We're in the same denomination as Carol in Cal, and despite the official doctrinal and contractual protections, forced resignations are more common than you'd think :glare:. Most pastors don't fight it, because who wants to have their ministry (possibly family) dragged through the mud? Agree with 3blessingmom that usually it's b/c of a small group - most of the congregation is blindsided, too. And I can't imagine continuing to serve after getting the news - we did go to a farewell lunch, for the sake of the vast majority that had nothing to do with it, but otherwise made a clean break. We went to a different church - the pastor there was so wonderful, such a friend to Dh :) - and otherwise stayed far away. Getting a job was hard - we were at the poverty line for a year and half, until he got another call. Agree that depression is likely - was for Dh :(.

I'm glad they've got you as a friend.

Eta: we got 6 weeks severance and were glad to get it - could have easily been nothing. Drained our savings entirely, and we were grateful for help from family and friends, but made it.


Yes, it happens, and no, it's not right and not easy.
Too much depends on the local hierarchy, IMO.
And there is, what, a 3 year limit on staying rostered without a call?
I'm very sorry that you have been through this. I'm glad that you and your family are on a good path now.

I have seen some 'easing out' situations, and some situations where a congregation has been far more loyal for a far longer time than they probably should have been. The fact is, though, we have an expressed obligation of mutual loyalty that we can fall back on. It's not perfect, and it doesn't always work, I know that. But maybe we can revert to being more faithful to it--at least it's there. I certainly hope so.


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