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employment 1

Top Ten Employment Essentials 

Employment in a Church context can feel complex both for the employee and the employer. Navigating relationships between church membership, employment, pastoral care, leadership, best practice, and legal requirements can be delicate.

Here are the top ten HR components to be aware of as an employee and an employer.

ONE - Job Description and Person Specification

If there is a job, there should always be a job description. It is vital. But often it's either so detailed only a superhuman could do the role or so vague that no one has any real idea what the job entails. Both scenarios can cause conflict as time progresses.

What is required from the role? The job description should fully represent the expectations. If using an occupational requirement for the incumbent to be a Christian, then the job description should clarify what parts of the role shape that requirement.

The person specification should not be an afterthought. This is the opportunity to describe the skills, knowledge and experience needed for the role. This criteria should be used for shortlisting applications against and to frame interview questions.

TWO - Pre-employment Checks

When a job is offered post interview, it will be offered, subject to, for example, satisfactory references, DBS check, right to work in the UK, evidence of relevant qualifications. This is a conditional offer and if the pre-employment paperwork turns up areas of concern or unsuitability for the role the offer can be withdrawn. If an employer starts a new employee without checks carried out, they do so at their own risk. Or, if a candidate receives a conditional offer and resigns from their current job it is at their own risk.

Offers should be followed up in writing and a written acceptance of the offer is also customary.

THREE - Contract

A contract of employment must be provided to the employee before or on their first day of employment. Ensure that the contract / terms and conditions are signed by the employer (the trustees) and the employee and that both retain a signed copy.

The contract of employment should hold the following :

  • Start date of employment.
  • End date if the role is a fixed term contract.
  • Salary and when someone can expect to receive their monthly pay.
  • Details of pension. Employees are required to auto enrol staff into a pension scheme. Employees can choose to opt out of the pension scheme should they wish to.
  • Obligatory Training - Annual and required training for the role.
  • Hours / Days of Work - Lay out how the working will work. Expected hours of work, anticipated days off, working weekends etc. The UK Working Time Directive states employees can't work more than 48 hours a week, averaged over 17 weeks. Employers cannot force an employee to opt out of the Working Time Directive, but an employee could choose to. If an opt has been agreed, this should be agreed in writing.
  • Holiday Entitlement - When the leave year starts and ends, any parameters e.g. not in term time and arrangements for leave carried over into the new leave year. An employer can turn down annual leave requests for legitimate reasons. Part time employees annual leave will be pro rata based on their hours of work.
  • Place of work - If an employees' normal place of work is their home, they may be entitled to expenses for travel to the church etc.
  • Probation period - It is customary to have a 6 month probationary period for new employees with a 3 month check in point.
  • Sick pay - This may be statutory but should be noted.
  • Other leave - Such as maternity, paternity, adoption, shared parental leave can be mentioned.
  • Notice period - The contract should show how this will work from both sides, employer and employee.
  • Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures - These policies should also be available in full elsewhere.
  • Any other benefits - this is not always relevant, but can include such things as employee assistance programmes, counselling, supervision etc.

FOUR - Employee Handbook - Policies and Procedures

Clear, transparent policies and procedures are key, whether there are 1 or 100 employees. All policies and procedures should be available to employees, so that they know and understand what to expect in different situations.

Having robust processes and procedures that anyone can follow enables a more person-centred approach. Many policies and processes are best practice rather than legal requirements, but if best practice is not followed, legal proceedings can ensue.

The minimum policies and procedures required are Safeguarding, Health and Safety, Data Protection, Confidentiality, Disciplinary and Grievance. It is also helpful to lay out any parental policies you have (maternity, paternity, adoption etc) and a sickness policy.

Help with policies can be gained from an HR consultant or employment lawyer and need to be kept up to date.

FIVE - Regular Line Management

We have all experienced good and bad line management. This working relationship is key to the organisational culture, ethos and practice.

An employee's line manager is not necessarily the same as their employer. The line manager will probably be a more senior post holder or employee, whereas the legal employer will likely be the trustees or the PCC (or equivalent).

Regular line management meetings should be set up and as far as possible not be cancelled or postponed. Establish an agreed pattern or agenda to the meetings so there is a clear framework, and no one is coming into the meetings blind.

SIX - Annual Review / Performance Management

An annual time should be set aside to review the previous year. What has been difficult? What can we celebrate? This is a time to understand lessons learned and roadblocks, but also to look ahead at the coming year : set goals and expectations, plan and be strategic, and ensure employees have clear objectives and are accountable for their work.

This is also an opportunity to discuss professional development and any training needs for the year ahead.

SEVEN - Training

There is a section in an employee's contract that outlines obligatory training provided. Be clear who employees should approach to request training. Consider what the annual staff training budget will be.

Mentoring and / or coaching is also a great way of investing in and developing employees. Development or training needs will arise throughout someone's employment. Sometimes a change in the type of work requires new knowledge and skills. An employee might ask for help with wider skills training such as a qualification or degree / masters. Consider what is possible before any agreements are made. Funding should be discussed, and agreements made in writing.

EIGHT - Employee Benefits

Employee benefits can entice people to work for an organisation. Some are expected : pay, pension, annual leave, sick pay. However, there may be more an employer can offer. Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) that support a workers wellbeing, liability insurance or life insurance can also be explored. Other benefits could be paid supervision, counselling, accommodation, or accommodation allowance.

NINE - Data and GDPR

Data protection policies should be updated to include the data stored about employees. A privacy notice specifically for applicants and employees should be accessible so that there is knowledge and understanding of what data is stored about people and why. Carefully consider what personal and sensitive data is held and if it is actually required.

Any information that is collected from applicants from recruitment carried out (application forms, CV's etc) should be securely disposed of after 6 months as this is the period in which an unsuccessful applicant can bring a claim of discrimination.

Information held on former employees should be securely disposed of after six months as this is the timeframe in which they can sue a former employer for breach of contract.

Employees can make a subject access request. This means that any employee can ask to see any information held by the church / organisation about them. Employers must respond without delay and within one month of receipt of request. All information must be provided securely and in a concise and accessible format.

A subject access request will include emails that contain the employees name or details. Please think about this when you are emailing about specific people and situations. Should this be a phone call? Is it factual information that could be found elsewhere?

You can find help on data protection and GDPR from the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) or your denomination's regional / national office.

TEN - Dealing with difficult situations

No one wants to be in a position of difficulty with their employer or employee, but problems and breakdowns in relationship do occur. In these times it is important for employees to know their route to gain help, to formally report situations and where they know they will be listened to fairly. A good grievance policy is essential here. Perhaps appoint a designated trustee who an employee can have access to. The use of mediation in times of conflict can also be a very useful tool if all parties agree to it. Thought should also be given to what pastoral support is available to employees when going through a formal procedure.

Consideration and agreement should be reached around communications to the wider church community when there are difficulties amongst the staff team.

We know that redundancies and dismissals are very challenging. It is essential that processes are fairly and transparently carried out. Always remember that it is the roles that are made redundant, not people - so if a role is made redundant, an employer cannot then appoint someone to the same / similar role. Those at risk of redundancy must be consulted, even if it is just one person. Give space for the process, so the employee involved understands what is happening and has the tools and support they need. There is a great tool on the Government's website for both employees and employers to calculate statutory redundancy pay.

These top ten considerations skim the surface of the world of employment, but fear not, there are resources out there to help both employer and employee understand their rights and responsibilities. Access to an HR consultant or employment lawyer to advise and help along the way is always beneficial.

ACAS is a great resource and lays out many of the procedures and best practice that should be worked through in certain situations. The Government website also offers assistance in certain aspects of employment. Employees might consider joining something like the Faith Workers Branch of Unite for support and advice.

Suzie Leveson is a CIPD member with 16 years HR experience at organisations including Tearfund, PFS and as HR Director at BRIT School, a performing arts and technology school in South East London. Dealing with everything from organisational change to leadership and management, disciplinary, policy provision and employee relations. Suzie is also a qualified personal and professional coach, was a governor of Spurgeons College for 4 years and is currently a Trustee for the Baptist Union of Great Britain.

If you have found this article helpful and are looking for further HR assistance or coaching, feel free to contact Suzie via her website : 

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