July 31, 2013

Terminating Employment or Firing Biblically

This is just a short post about my life outside of the ministry. When I am not voraciously consuming the word of God, preaching or teaching or raising a family with my wife I am bi-vocational and earning a living as a Quality Specialist/Engineer. Part of my duty is input with management concerning inspection and quality of output of mechanical parts from a precision shop. The parts we make are to high tolerance blueprints and go on military vehicles. As they say in the military, “There are no unimportant parts in the heat of battle.” The truth is that we cannot afford to make mistakes as people’s lives are on the line in every part we make.

So… a person was laid off from where I work today. They tried every which way to Sunday to try to help her get the hang of her job. I suspect she may have over-sold herself in the interview as being more than she was. At this point, I guess I'll never know for sure. In the end, she couldn't do the job she was given so she was released. 

So I have a question.

Is it Christian and biblical to remove a person from a job if they cannot do the job? Is it still biblical if the employee’s inability compromises the output quality of the product or compromises a positive end result? A compromise that in the end...could cost someone their life. Is there biblical grounds for firing someone or removing them from your payroll? Remember, the company really did all they could to give her work she could handle.

Additionally, I inadvertently had a hand in the process of removing her when I insisted that I could no longer do my job and constantly help do this other person’s also. I wanted to be as biblical as possible in my review of this situation. In good conscience all was done to preserve employment. That being said, I believe love, patience, grace and stewardship is what this boils down to. The Bible instructs that the default attitude throughout our decision-making process must be one of patience, forgiveness and grace. The owners are clearly Christian as are some of the workers (myself included) and none of us took this lightly or liked it.  

As Christian managers, like any managers, there is a duty not just to the employee in question, but to all employees as well. I believe responsible stewardship sometimes dictates that under-performers (based on a work description clearly laid out for them) have their relationship with the organization involuntarily severed. I see no sin in this, provided people first allow for an abundance of grace and forgiveness which means allowing for many mistakes and teaching them, not just terminating them ad hoc. If the termination is unavoidable, it needs a gentle hand.  I guess in the end Acts 15 might be a good model for not keeping someone on too.

Acts 15:36-39 …later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. 
Paul refused to take John (called Mark). Paul knew that he needed the right person for the job (having deserted earlier…i.e.: unreliable) and John (Mark) didn’t cut it because he was unreliable/unpredictable.

The truth is this employee was gainfully employed for 6 months, given a sub-par review which was appropriate for the lack of quality in the work done. She was told she needed to improve and didn't. She was then moved to less mentally taxing work and still boon-doggled it. When approached about errors she would never take ownership of them always blamed other coworkers, the system, the weather, etc. When I was asked for help I would advise her on methods for doing things. It would often turn out that the advice I gave (which was only advice) was misappropriated or misused. When confronted with her errors the response to her error would be, “Andy said to do it that way, blah, blah, blah.” I would then need to clarify that I offered only advice and the decision she made was her own, not mine. This became quite aggravating and I eventually stopped offering advice.

Other Scripture that speaks to this could also be the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30. It is clear in this passage that Jesus holds people accountable and they should not be irresponsible. It is relating mainly to the Kingdom and faithful servants being ready for the Kingdom coming but it can also be seen as a story of profitable and unprofitable servants/employees. All are given responsibility.  In its essence, God assigns responsibility to people according to their ability. The responsible servants took the resources allotted to them and put them to good use to profit the Lord. The irresponsible squandered or wasted the resources by not using them properly.

This carries over to employers. If they are responsible Christians they should be putting time and monies from God to good use. To pay or give money to people that are not giving proper productivity back in return for wages due, well, that employer is not using monies given them by God efficiently and frugally. The unfaithful or unproductive servant is then “unrewarded”. In my example they are laid-off or terminated from employment. It is the proverbial and biblical: Be faithful in the small things and greater things will be given, be unfaithful and you will have everything taken away from you. If you are given a task and do not faithfully or properly execute that task, there is a price to pay…in this case…loss of gainful employment. I mean seriously…if you cannot effectively discharge a duty given to you in employment, should you really expect a reward or commendation in the form of a paycheck in the long run? I think not, it is an ineffective use of resources.

This being said, having been a business/quality manager at Mack Trucks, Inc., I believe certain things should always be in place from and employer and in this case, there were. A person needs a clear job description. They need to know what is expected of them. This includes a clear set of standards for performance. These expectations need to be clearly communicated. When there is a failure to meet expectations, there needs to be a clear, swift written communication of lack of performance. After this a trial correction period needs to be given to fix the problem (or perhaps a few). It is after these secondary and tertiary expectations are not met then a respectful exit for the employee should be considered valid.

In this case there were many more chances given and it seems the same end result occurred. The errors were nervously laughed off or blame was placed on everyone but the culpable party. I believe this was the root of the problem with this person also. If a person is not teachable or cannot admit they’re wrong, they’ll be dead in the water.  All should aspire to become experts in their field of endeavor. Almost by default if a person becomes an expert or master of their trade they become teachers. By becoming teachers they become leaders. What does the Bible say about leaders in the Church? It says they need to be beyond reproach, morally upright, teachable and by default they need to be responsible. These same qualities carry over to other leadership roles which are the end result of mastering a trade.

There are other principles that could come into play when needing to end and employment relationship with an individual. One that comes to mind is that idea that you are only as strong of an entity as your weakest link. This carries over into the body of the church. We are called to be diligent and strong in our faith in the church as the weaker members become more of a liability to the holistic strength of the church. At the same time we are to do things to bolster the weak members. The ones in entrenched sin that do not wish to willingly change and are reluctant to try are to be given over to the system of the world (1 Corinthians 5).

This is brutal but necessary for people to realize the gravity of their error. People cannot be continually let go and to pursue a life or lifestyle of non-accountability. The bible is clear that we are all to be responsible for our actions. We are all held accountable for our sin and behavior in general. We are all held accountable to repent and find our own individual salvation. We are also to accountable to work with the Holy Spirit towards our own sanctification too. Blaming others for our failure to do something is just irresponsible and frankly, childish in its approach to life.

Christians are a reflection of the God they believe in. Sadly, the terminated employee in this situation is a self-described Christian and admits to weekly church attendance. Notwithstanding, as Christians we are called to give our best in all situations because when we misbehave or act poorly, we are a poor reflection on the One we owe our salvation to and the One we call Lord. Part of this is taking accountability for poor behavior or in this case, poor work performance. This demands that we do everything possible to rectify a bad situation, not laugh it off as inconsequential or defer responsibility.

In the end, terminating employment is stressful and unpleasant. I prefer not to see it or be involved but a true leadership personality needs to be able to do it and do it properly. Even though it is unpleasant, sometimes it is biblically warranted if not required. It is especially required in instances of insubordination or behavior that is divisional or divisive and subverts the authority of those in charge (Romans 13). There should be no shame in having to follow through on it though. Conversely, we should take no pleasure in doing it either. If we do, we had better check ourselves or we may be the next one on the outside looking in.

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