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Justice in the Workplace

A Biblical System for Resolving Personnel Issues

By Laurent J. LaBrie

Part Two
of a two-part article published in

The Christian Management Report

January 2002



The vision of all Christian leaders is to see their employees at their best, achieving worthwhile goals and manifesting Christian character. But then, why are interpersonal problems so prevalent? And why are Christian organizations caught in fraud and illegal actions concerning personnel?

Too often, ministries still take personnel action based on the motto, "You don't need a reason to fire someone; you just need to feel it in your gut." In contrast, the Bible firmly states, "Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death" (Exodus 23:7).

We've found scriptural guidelines effective in providing fair treatment of employees, encouraging risk-taking in confronting wrong actions, and developing ethical behavior.

Moses, for example, instructs leaders to: Never convict anyone of a crime on the testimony of just one witness. The facts of the case must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If a malicious witness comes forward and accuses someone of a crime, then both the accuser and accused must be closely questioned, and if the accuser is found to be lying, the accuser will receive the punishment intended for the accused. In this way, you will cleanse such evil from among you. Those who hear about it will be afraid to do such an evil thing again (Deuteronomy 19:15-20 NLT).

Leaders, by definition, must help resolve personnel problems. Thats what leaders do. If we want integrity and equity practiced within our organization, then we must ensure, first of all, that individuals in conflict have tried to work out the problem among themselves, and secondly, that any complaints of illegal or disruptive behavior are investigated immediately and thoroughly. Unresolved problems have a habit of reaching the media, donors and the courtroom.

The First Phase

When a leader gets involved in a personnel issue, the first phase of reconciliation is informal. The manager discusses the incident with the employee, allowing ample opportunity to pose questions. The problem may have been caused by a simple misunderstanding or outdated procedures. To prevent recurrence, they work together to clarify organizational standards and adjust the system, as needed.

Immediately after the conference, the leader should place a simple note in the employees file documenting what was communicated. If the incident was minor, seemingly innocent, and communication seems to have resolved the problem, both parties can forgive and reconciliation is complete. However, if the conduct was illegal, intentional or repetitious, a formal reconciliation phase must be initiated.


Conflict Resolution at Green Pastures

Green Pastures places a high value on working together cooperatively as a team. Maintaining this positive working environment requires conflicts to be resolved immediately. When a conflict develops between staff members, Green Pastures expects the following sequential guidelines to be followed:
1. The involved staff members will try to solve the conflict. If theres still a difference of opinion, the supervisor in charge has authority to resolve the issue.
2. If the supervisor can't resolve it, they're instructed to bring it to the weekly departmental meetings as an agenda item, or, if that's inappropriate, directly to their manager.
3. If agreement can't be reached at this level, a meeting is scheduled with the senior administrator.
4. If the administrator can't resolve it, an outside mediator is brought in to bring resolution to the matter.

A Formal Reconciliation Process

Investigation.

It's easy to jump to conclusions, but careful investigation provides the discipline to get our facts straight. Click here for more information on this process.

Introduce and reference evidence;

obtain written statements from witnesses.

 Response.

Present your observations to the individual orally. Producing documents too soon can give the impression you are closed-minded, or out-to-get the employee. Avoid making subjective statements such as you seem, generalizations like you always," or judgments of motives such as "it looks like you wanted to." Allow time for discussion and clarification.

If discussion reconfirms your initial findings, present those findings in writing to the employee, including a description of the incident, and an explanation of how it falls short of minimum expectations. Ask for a written response, giving the employee opportunity to clarify the circumstances, formulate comprehensive thoughts, provide evidence and written statements by others, or admit the offense and seek remedial treatment.

 Mediation.

Upon receiving a written response, it's time to consider what actions must be taken and what training is needed for reconciliation. The remedy should rarely involve micro-managing the situation. Controlling people binds them, makes them fearful, and handicaps their initiative and productivity. Our goal is to retrain them and protect them from the vulnerability their weaknesses create.

 Warning.

Finally, for legal protection, you must inform the employee of the serious consequences of the incident with the words, "Failure to correct your behavior may result in further disciplinary action, up to and including discharge."

Unless the conduct was illegal or extremely dangerous, the aim is reconciliation, not discharge. First, reinforce the positive qualities of offenders, including their value to God and the organization. If they seem penitent, reaffirm the serious nature of the misconduct and remind them that justice allows for no reduction-just for the sake of sentiment-in the penalty. If they've been belligerent, whimsical or lackadaisical about the problem, you should consider a disciplinary layoff, expressing your hope that they will return to work with an understanding of the need for changed behavior.

For example: "John, you've served us well for the past year. God has gifted you with writing skills that are well respected by your peers. However, these skills are overshadowed by your disruptive outbursts of anger. Your colleagues have asked to leave your team. Seeking their forgiveness would demonstrate that you understand how serious this problem is. With the help of the Prince of Peace who dwells within you and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, I'm sure you can achieve the standards weve established in this session."

To protect employees, you can't inform their peers about the counseling. This could destroy their reputation and effectiveness, and it will also dissolve confidence in you as a leader. Always maintain silence until the person is suspended or fired. If the person is eventually terminated, you can then show others that the decision was made objectively and lovingly, building loyalty and trust in you as a capable manager, and a sense of job security in the workplace.

Policies Must Be Enforced

Once your justice system is in place, the policies must be enforced. In the 1990s, the University of Michigan had some of the highest levels of reported racial incidents per student. When called in to help, I identified an ineffective justice system as the major cause.

Employees were not being given a choice of who would defend them when disciplinary action was considered. Management was not required to substantiate claims against employees. Conference dates were set when it was impossible for the defendant to attend. They had some of the best written policies I've ever seen, but they just didn't follow them.

Reaping the Benefits

Over the past several weeks, Erol had worked through a very difficult personnel situation. Many were angry over his decision to let Darrell go, so an open meeting was called. When he entered the room, the tension was so great you could cut it with a knife. Donors were fuming. Questions were swirling all around. Why did this happen? How could they fire such a great Christian employee? Is this really a Christian organization or do they just wear that label to get our donations?

After taking a moment to pray, Erol faced the group confidently. He had solid evidence of wrongdoing and a folder full of documentation to show that the organization had followed biblical principles. He had given the employee every chance to change and demonstrated a Christ-like behavior throughout the process.

After hearing only half the evidence, donors were convinced of the organization's propriety. Before leaving, many commended him and the organization on how they handled the situation. Employee interaction and their attitudes improved noticeably. They no longer feared for their jobs, allowing them to voice their opinions more honestly. Intellectual capital was being used more effectively for the promotion of the Kingdom.

When employees see the words of management actually enforced with love and equity, three things begin to happen: employees are encouraged, decreasing burnout; ethical behavior is reinforced, improving the organization's witness in the community; and respect for the organizations leaders increases.

As the scripture says, "When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice. But when the wicked are in power, they groan" (Proverbs 29:2 NLT). The value of a functional justice system will be strongly supported by your employees as they gain confidence in its just and equitable treatment for everyone.

This article is the second installment of a two-part article on Justice in the Workplace. The first part of this article, Discerning Justice in the Workplace: How We Need to Establish Caring Systems on the Job, was published in the October 2001 issue of Christian Management Report.

Laurent J. LaBrie is the Romanian director for Go Ye Fellowship, serving in Curtea de Arges, Romania. He may be contacted at e-mail address.






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© 2003 Laurent J. LaBrie