A. Guidelines for Appropriate Conduct
Employee conduct affects the health and growth of the Church and reflects upon our image in the greater community. Employees have a responsibility to the Church, their colleagues, and themselves to conduct themselves in a professional manner at all times, and in ways that support healthy community life.
Employees must take extreme care around personal or special relationships with members, friends, or partners of Foothills because of the potential ethical problems, perception of favoritism, or nature of the unequal power dynamics between Foothills’ employees and its members, friends and partners.
Employee’s Role as Staff. Although our team members often share a sense of passion and commitment to the mission of the Church and our faith in the same way they would if they were members, they are in a distinct role from our members. While we hope they find spiritual fulfillment in their work, this is not their Church home, nor are the ministers able to be their ministers. Only in rare occurrences and when approved by the Senior Minister would we consider hiring someone who is a Church member as staff, as it is inevitably a complex dual role for anyone to navigate. In those situations, the staff member is required to put their role as a staff above their needs and role as a member.
The Church asks all employees to wear their name badges whenever they are on duty, especially on Sunday mornings, so as to clarify their role as staff and to help people identify them as a resource.
Relationship with Other Staff Members. Furthermore, staff members are expected to abide by the staff covenant, and to work as a team in service of our congregation’s mission and vision. Foothills staff members are prohibited from dating any other staff members.
Relationships with Congregants. The priority of staff members is to ensure that congregants can engage fully and safely with the Church and its ministries. As a result, staff members are to refrain from dating or engaging in any sexual relationships with members, friends, or regular attenders of the Church. Friendships with Church members are not prohibited, but are complicated by the staff role, and staff members must consistently prioritize their role as staff rather than as friend whenever these two needs come into conflict. It is always problematic for congregants to perceive that a given staff member has a “special relationship” with some congregants but not others, and so staff members should be cautious about forming friendships. It is never appropriate for staff members to share problems or challenges about the work environment with congregants, or turn to them for support (outside of the Grievance Procedure as outlined in this Handbook). Congregants come to Church with their vulnerabilities and need not be drawn into the work dynamics of the staff team. Ultimately, staff need to remember that congregants do not come to Church to meet staff’s personal needs, but rather to become a part of a meaningful, faithful community dedicated to a larger purpose; they need and must expect the staff to serve their spiritual journeys and growth, rather than the other way around.
This social complication also plays out in social media, where staff members must be thoughtful about when or if to “friend” congregants, and in all cases to remember that what they share in social media reflects on the Church and their job.
In summary, staff need to remember that interactions with Church members, whether online or in person, reflect on each employee’s role as a staff member, and a result, reflect on and relate to each employee’s professional role.
Relationships with Other Unitarian Universalists and UU Congregations. As our congregation affirms a shared sense of mission and purpose with all other Unitarian Universalist congregations, all employees are expected to engage with other area UU congregants with the same degree of service and care as they do with Foothills congregants.
Expectations for our employees not only involves sincere respect for the rights and feelings of others, but also demands that employees refrain from any behavior that might be harmful to themselves, co-workers, or the Church that might be viewed unfavorably by current or potential members or by the public at large. Employee conduct reflects on the Church. Employees are, consequently, expected to observe the highest standards of professionalism and ethical behavior at all times.
Categories of behavior that the Church would consider inappropriate and could potentially lead to immediate termination include, but are not limited to the following:
- Using the Church or the employee’s role for personal gain, for example:
- Soliciting gifts or gratuities from vendors or community members;
- Excessive, unnecessary, or unauthorized use of Church property and supplies, particularly for personal purposes;
- Theft of property from co-workers, customers, or the Church;
- Neglecting the safety or security of the Church community, for example:
- Creating a hostile work environment
- Reporting to work under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and the illegal manufacture, possession, use, sale, distribution or transportation of drugs;
- Fighting or using obscene, abusive, or threatening language or gestures;
- Disregarding safety or security regulations;
- Failing to maintain the confidentiality of Church or member information
- Failing to maintain personal integrity or professionalism, for example
- Falsifying employment or other Church records;
- Complaining or venting to or in front of congregants about their work responsibilities (including on social media);
Furthermore, all staff are required to be active members of their applicable professional association (i.e. UU Ministers Association, Liberal Religious Educators, UU Administrators, etc.), learning with and from others in their field, attending applicable professional education opportunities, furthering the health of their professional organization, and complying fully with their professional guidelines and codes of conduct.
This list is not exhaustive of the Church’s concerns. Always remember that the Church can terminate an employee for any reason.
Should an employee’s performance, work habits, overall attitude, conduct or demeanor become unsatisfactory based on violations either of the above or of any other Church policies, rules, or regulations, the employee will be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including immediate termination.
B. Progressive Discipline
It is our practice to ensure that all employees and supervisors are in regular dialogue and constructive feedback regarding job expectations and performance, and when an employee is off-course, supervisors will provide them feedback and support to correct performance deficiencies. When this feedback does not change the employee’s performance delivery, the Church may follow a progressive discipline that may include warnings, suspensions, and up to/including termination. However, the Church may not provide any progressive discipline and may terminate without notice. In the case progressive discipline is used, the following outlines the Church’s terms and expectations:
A verbal warning is a notice to an employee that his/her conduct or performance is unacceptable, and that repeated or continued failure to conform his/her conduct or performance to the Church standards will result in more severe disciplinary action. A record of the notice of the verbal warning may be made and retained in the employee’s personnel file.
A written warning will describe the unacceptable conduct or performance of the employee and specify needed changes or improvements. A written warning may also include the initiation of a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP). A copy of the written warning will be retained in the employee’s personnel file.
Suspension of the employee’s employment may be used, particularly when there is a need for investigation regarding an employee’s behavior. During the suspension time, the employee will be paid from his/her PTO balance.
When an employee fails to conform his/her conduct or performance to the standards required by the Church, the Church may, in its sole discretion, terminate the employee’s employment.
The Church reserves the right to administer discipline in such a manner as it deems appropriate to the circumstances, and may, in its sole discretion, bypass any or all of the steps in the discipline process.
C. Professional Misconduct
Professional misconduct is defined as the serious and egregious violation of standards for an employee’s profession. For example, this may include financial malfeasance, boundary violations with congregants, or other serious ethical violations on the part of any religious professional. Religious professionals include religious educators (at the director, coordinator or administrative level for children, youth, or adults), music staff (anyone who is a part of the worship team or who oversees music), administrators, membership staff, and ministerial staff (including interns).
Professional misconduct has serious and long-lasting consequences for religious communities, as it constitutes a breach of our covenant and a break in trust between staff and congregants. Individuals and congregations can be damaged by one person’s misconduct, with long-term negative consequences.
As a result, allegations of misconduct are taken seriously in all cases, and will trigger a three-phase response: Reporting; Investigation; and Response. These are outlined in below and describe principles, actions and possible outcomes; however, in all cases the Church retains the right to terminate employment at-will.
Allegations of misconduct can be brought to any staff member at any time.
In most cases and whenever possible, confidentiality of the reporter and those impacted will be maintained.
If there is immediate risk to the health or safety of staff and/or congregants based on the allegation, the ministers have discretion to swiftly address the situation, up to and including immediate suspension or termination of employment.
Any issues that involve illegal or dangerous activity will result in contacting the police or other authorities, and all staff members are empowered to make this judgment call whenever necessary.
Staff members who receive a report of alleged misconduct must direct the person coming forward to speak immediately to one of the ministers.
Within 24 hours of any initial report, regardless of what the reporter chooses to do, staff members are required to verbally communicate the incident to one of the ministers.
Within 48 hours of the report, staff members are required to write a summary paragraph of the report given to them and provide that to the Senior Minister.
The Senior Minister is responsible for investigating and taking action in response to any allegations of professional misconduct, using their discretion and professional judgment as Head of Staff and professional clergy. Generally, this investigation will engage the following principles:
- Direct conversation with the person most impacted by the alleged misconduct.
- Written documentation of the incident by the reporter and/or the Senior Minister.
- Communication with any other professional ministers on staff, unless the misconduct involves the other minister.
- Pastoral care and support for the potential victim(s) will be upheld throughout the process.
- Partnership in the investigation, and the decision making process – the Senior Minister will engage the President and Vice President of the Board of Trustees, and potentially the entire Board, as well as appropriate UUA staff, and any other specialists or colleagues with expertise in the sort of situation being alleged.
- Legal counsel will be sought early and regularly.
- Our insurance carrier will be notified by either the Senior Minister or the Administrator.
Methods of investigation may include:
- Conversation with the staff member who has allegedly misconducted (see note below);
- Conversations/interviews with witnesses;
- Reviews of email or other correspondence;
- Social media review;
- Church records review (i.e. financial records, database review, etc.);
- Other data review based on the particular allegations.
Upon validation and verification, the following process continues. If it has been disproven or there is sufficient doubt, there will be additional investigation as necessary until there is no further reasonable doubt. During this time, the staff member may be put on paid or unpaid leave.
It is the standard practice to give any employee accused of misconduct an opportunity to respond to the allegations. However, a decision on when to contact or involve the staff member who allegedly misconducted is made by the Senior Minister in consultation with the Board of Trustees, particularly taking into consideration:
- The level of certainty regarding the allegations before this consultation occurs;
- The assessed risk of retaliation or cover up; and
- The potential for harm to the congregation, particularly any confirmed victims of the misconduct.
Any employee who has been accused of misconduct is encouraged to reach out to their Good Officer as soon as they are notified. Good Officers serve as advocates and allies to UU professional staff. Employees should know who their Good Officers are and why/when to bring them in. This information is available through the employee’s professional association.
When the complaint is about one of the ordained ministers, the staff member receiving the complaint must assess whether they can take it directly to that minister, or to another minister on staff, or if they feel they need to go directly to the Board. All of these are options that the staff member can choose, based on their sense of safety, comfort, and seriousness of the situation.
The Senior Minister will complete the investigation phase as quickly as possible, ideally within a few days and at most a week after the initial report was made.
When the complaint has been verified as true, the following occurs:
The Board President, Vice President and the Ministers develop a recommendation for appropriate action, including whether or not to convene the entire Board.
If the entire Board is convened, members will receive a summary of the allegations and situation as well as the recommendation developed by the President, Vice President and Ministers, and a decision will be made.
Possible outcomes or recommendations include: immediate termination, further investigation, or some other disciplinary action.
This determination will ideally be made by consensus of the Board of Trustees, the Senior Minister and the Executive Team.
Based on these recommendations, the Senior Minister will request the staff member meet with the Senior Minister, Board President, and potentially the Executive Team.
During this meeting, the staff member has the opportunity to respond fully to the allegations and leadership has the authority to pause the prior recommendations if this perspective alters the understanding in any way, and place the employee on suspension while further investigation occurs.
When there is not a change in understanding, it is likely that termination will occur immediately, the staff member will be issued a final paycheck, and they will be escorted off Church property.
Once misconduct has been confirmed, this information will be shared as quickly as possible with the congregation, as such transparency is required by our covenantal religious practice and our need to repair the break in our covenant and move towards healing.
This disclosure will be shared with all members and friends of the congregation, and will include the general nature of the misconduct and the resulting action taken. While staff members will likely be given a chance to see this disclosure before it is released, they will not have a chance to provide input.
D. Conflict of Interest
Employees shall not engage in any collateral employment or business activity that is incompatible or in conflict with their duties, functions or responsibilities as a Church employee. The Church Administrator should be consulted if there is any question whether an activity is acceptable.
Employees are expected to avoid conflicts of interest, and the appearance of a conflict of interest, defined as any situation where an employee may attain personal gain or which may serve as a detriment to the Church, either monetarily or to its public image, because of the use of information or personal contact which is not generally available except through employment with the Church.
Potential conflicts of interest should be discussed with the Church Administrator. If the Church Administrator determines that the proposed activity does not constitute a conflict, written documentation will be provided to the employee and placed in the employee’s personnel file.
E. Attendance and Punctuality
The supervisor should be notified as far in advance as possible if the employee is going to be absent or delayed in reporting to work. If the employee is absent or late without prior notification, the supervisor should be notified as soon as possible as to the cause. The supervisor may assign make-up time or recommend reduced compensation when appropriate.
F. Staying Informed and Communication Practices
Each employee has a responsibility to stay informed about what is going on in the Church generally and most especially related to those things in their assigned area of responsibility. As a result, staff members are expected to subscribe to the Foothills’ Leadership Blog (foothillsuuleaders.wordpress.com) and the weekly newsletter, as well as remain regularly engaged with the Communication worksheet (Marketing and Communication/Foothills Communication Schedule Year).
It is also important for employees to keep the Church informed of their intended schedule, accurate personal information, and preferred method of contact in the following ways:
Intended Schedule:Employees should inform their supervisor and the office staff of their generally expected schedule and keep up to date the google staff calendar with any changes.
Each employee will use their work email address for all Foothills related work. All work related documents should be stored on the Foothills Google Drive.
Internal staff communication is primarily done through Slack. Employees are expected to learn and integrate this communication platform into their workflows.
Generally, our work integrates the use of technology and emerging tools for productivity, project management and collaboration, and employees are expected to regularly learn and integrate these tools as they are identified. Support for this learning process is available through employee’s supervisor or the Administrator.
G. Confidential Information
As an employee at Foothills, one may be privy to confidential information about the organization, including but not limited to, information about members, friends, volunteers or other staff members. This information must remain confidential and is not to be released, removed from the Church’s premises, copied, transmitted or in any other way used or disclosed for any purpose by employees outside the scope of their employment. Additionally, employees are cautioned to be extremely careful when discussing any Church matters in a social setting and potentially risk disclosing information inappropriately. All requests for information concerning past or present employees received from organizations or individuals should be directed to the Church Administrator.
I. Media Inquiries
The Church realizes the importance of the press in creating public support and encourages attention from the media. We believe in utilizing the media to increase community awareness, and publicize special events. We must always conduct ourselves in the most professional manner in front of the media – at work and out in the community – and treat members of the media with respect.
All requests for information about the Church from newspapers, television and radio media should be directed to the Senior Minister or President of the Board of Trustees. An appropriate response to a media inquiry would be, “I am not the best person to answer that question. May I contact the appropriate person and have that individual get back to you?”
J. Electronic Communication
During work hours, it is the Church’s expectation that employees will be engaging in work-related duties. This means that internet use, phone calls, and other tasks completed during work time must be primarily for legitimate work-related assigned duties and all personal internet/phone use during work hours should be kept to a minimum.
All materials, information and software created, transmitted, downloaded or stored on the Church’s computer system or in the Foothills Unitarian Church google drive are the property of the Church and may be accessed only by authorized personnel.
For any Church-related software or devices, employees must provide the Church Administrator with any personal passwords and access codes relating to the use of electronic communication during working hours or on Church equipment. Employees should not consider their Internet usage, e-mail communications, or voice mail communications to be private.
Only authorized staff members may communicate on the Internet, through email or otherwise, on behalf of the Church. Employees may not express opinions or share any information about Church members on any social media.
Any software or other material downloaded into Church’s computers may be used only in ways consistent with the licenses and copyrights of the vendors, authors or owners of the material.
All employee computers have virus protection software installed on them. Employees are responsible for ensuring this software is running and updated whenever necessary. All employee files must be regularly backed up on the google drive.
K. Job Injury/Worker’s Compensation
It is an employee’s legal responsibility to immediately report all on-the-job injuries or illnesses, regardless of severity, to the Church Administrator. First Report of Injury forms are available in the Church office. She will assist you in filing a first report of injury to our carrier, Church Mutual. If an employee has an injury at work, they should get treated and the Church will work with them to ensure coverage. If an employee has been out of work and collecting a worker’s compensation benefit, a “return to work” declaration from a physician will be required to resume their duties.
L. Personal Property
Because churches, like other organizations, are sometimes the victims of theft, the Church can make no assurances that personal property will always be secure. Additionally, given the number of people who may be coming in and out of the Church at any time, it is possible that there may be errors or mistakes that would cause items to go missing. As a result, employees are advised to take appropriate cautionary steps to secure their belongings, including refraining from bringing valuable items onto Church grounds.
M. Inspection Rights
The Church reserves the right to open and inspect any property on Church premises without prior notice or consent. The storage of any unauthorized alcohol, firearms, illegal drugs or drug-related paraphernalia is prohibited on Church premises. Employees may not use personal locks on Church owned desks, cabinets, closets or storage areas.
N. Working Off-Site
It is important for team cohesion and congregational connection for employees to work regularly on-site in the Church office while other staff are present. However, employees are often able to accomplish their work off site. Determining the schedule and location of an employee’s work must be coordinated with their supervisor on an ongoing basis.