Lawrence Smith says 90 percent of the hiring done in any enterprise, including churches, constitutes a mere verbal agreement – and that makes for increased pain if the person doesn’t work out. It’s painful enough to terminate a staff person, says Smith, but even more so in a church setting. The message: do it right, from the start.
Smith told a B.C. church administrators seminar, “This is about ending well, and doing so by starting well.” Smith, associate counsel with Kuhn LLP, a legal firm specializing in churches and charities, has acted for both employers and employees over the past decade. He has also acted for churches, and has learned that employment problems in a church setting often have some unique difficulties.
“In any dismissal, neither party knows what is going to happen,” he said, because it was never discussed. “However, if it is set out in a written contract at the start of a job, long before difficulties happen, you know what to expect.”
He would like to see every employee covered by a written contract, regardless of the position of the person, but ninety percent don’t think of it, even though a contract can represent good stewardship, fair practice, legal validity, and honour to God. If things go sour, it can save a church tens of thousands of dollars to adopt contracts as policy.
Smith was part of a day-long seminar on human resources, offered by the National Association of Church Business Administrators’ Canadian Pacific border chapter, headed by BCMB’s Marilyn Hiebert. The chapter co-sponsors the annual BCMB ChurchWorks training program for pastors, staff and lay workers, held each spring in Abbotsford.