Church Law Guide Blog

4 Things Most Church Leaders Forget to Do Before Terminating an Employee

Disciplining or terminating an employee, especially in the religious workplace, can be one of the most difficult things you have to do as a church or religious leader.  As a leader, you are well aware that people can easily become, what I call “church hurt.”  Church hurt occurs when members or employees of a church get their feelings hurt for one reason or another in church.  Church hurt has the ability to turn people off church for years and it is because church and religious organizations are the last places people expect for their feelings to get hurt.

That being said, as a leader, you have a duty, perhaps even a legal obligation, to ensure that your organization is running as effectively, efficiently, and legally as possible.  By the very nature of being a leader, you will be faced with difficult conversations with employees in which you will need to either discipline or terminate them.

Here are four bits of advice for disciplining and terminating employees:

1. Discipline > Termination:

Disciplining a current employee can be more economical than terminating an employee if the employee can make the adjustments you require of him or her. While individual personality traits can sometimes ruffle feathers in the workplace, effectively disciplining employees can be more cost and time efficient than hiring and training a new employee.

2. Keep Records:

Maintaining reports of poor performance of an employee will allow you to have support and guidance in disciplining or terminating them. These records will ensure you provide feedback to the employee about their behavior and/or subpar performancein an effort to avoid termination. If the poor performance or negative behavior continues, you will have evidence to support that decision in the form of records indicating the reason for their dismissal from their job.

3. Don’t Punish:

Discipline allows you to guide and fix employee behavior by working with their personality traits and work habits to correct problems in the work place. Your goal should be to teach your employees how to work for you, not just to punish. After all, an employee that knows exactly what you want (because you’ve told them) is going to help you more than one that is scare to make mistakes.

4. Keep It Legal (and Ethical):

Terminating employees can be a costly financial and legal decision if not carried out correctly. In addition to potential legal issues, such as discrimination claims, you can also face claims for unpaid wages if you do not take the proper steps to sever employment ties when terminating an employee. Keep the feedback professional; do not engage in name-calling or gossip. It is up to you as the employer to set the tone for professionalism and you always want to set an example that will withstand the highest amount of scrutiny.

Disciplining and terminating employees is never easy, especially in the religious context; but if you document properly along the way, the conversation will be efficient and effective.  If you have any questions about disciplining or terminating an employee reach out to an attorney for advice on the best legal practices to move forward with your decision.


Asha Wilkerson is the founder of The Wilkerson Law Office.  She is also the author of Employment Law for Church Leaders. Ms. Wilkerson provides skilled advice and counsel to for-profit, non-profit, and faith-based organizations in the areas of business and employment law.  The mission of The Wilkerson Law Office, is to preserve the longevity of your business by ensuring that every aspect of your organization is legally sound and operating in compliance with state and federal law.