It’s a day every ministry leader dreads.

Despite all of your coaching and counseling, one of your staff members is just not performing as expected and it is time to part company. Or worse, reduced revenue means you have to lay off someone through no fault of their own. Or worse than that, they have violated one of your ethical principles or harassed an employee, volunteer or client. Terminating an employee, for whatever reason, is never a happy occasion.

Wouldn’t it be easier to turn off the alarm and take a sick day?

Since that won’t make anything better, let’s look at a few things that will. These are things to do before performance issues arise. Do these consistently, for every position, every employee, every volunteer, and it will make your life easier in the long run.

First and foremost, always get legal counsel from your ministry’s trusted attorney. What follows are best practices but is not meant to be legal advice.

Have written job descriptions for every position in your organization including volunteers. If one person is currently fulfilling more than one role they should have an equal number of job descriptions. Make sure you have a personnel file for each employee and keep it up to date. If you have a large number of regular volunteers you do not need a file for each of them. If you have an issue with a volunteer then you can start a file for them.

Have a formal, written performance review with every employee once a year. Your evaluation should have space for the employee to make comments. Have them sign it and put a copy in the employee’s file. Have informal reviews with every employee on a regular basis, at least quarterly. Include any notes from the reviews in their file. Base all reviews on the written job descriptions and any short term assignments or objectives that have been agreed upon with the employee.

Have a board-approved policy for how you will handle employees who are not performing to the standards established by their job description. This should include what action steps you will take at various stages. As an example, after the first notification of unmet expectations, there should be a probationary period for the employee to improve. State the length of the probationary period clearly.

Notify the employee verbally and in writing of their failure to meet expectations and what they need to do to improve. Include specific, measurable goals for them to meet during the probationary period. And include everything you (or their manager) will do to help them improve such as training, mentoring, etc.

Make sure you have board-approved policies for ethical misconduct. These should include the consequences for violation of the policy. For example, does the first offense result in termination or is there a probationary period. Different policies can have different consequences as long as they are clearly stated in the policy.

In addition to standard policies on things like abuse and harassment, consider if you need to have separate, additional policies about the treatment of your clients. For example, if your ministry serves abused women or those trapped in prostitution, you should have policies about how, if ever, male staff and volunteers interact with them. Include these in a personnel policy manual that you review with every new employee on their first day. Have them sign a form stating that they have reviewed all the policies and add that to their file.

You should also have a volunteer manual that includes the appropriate policies and job descriptions. Volunteers need to review it and sign a statement that they have read and understood them. If you have a large number of volunteers, consider putting all of this online, including the signature form.

Creating job descriptions, evaluation forms, personnel policies and employee manuals is not easy. I hope you never need them! But if you have done this heavy lifting upfront, when you have to terminate an employee for poor performance or an ethical violation it will not be a surprise to them.

And hopefully, you won’t dread it quite so much.

Questions? Contact me anytime!

Arnold Kimmons, Coach – Upstate South Carolina

Director of Operations and Finance

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