As so many business and institutions face economic hardship from the pandemic, our concepts of dispute resolution are more important than ever. Principles of system design–transparency, consult before deciding, and maintaining trust–are crucial. Similarly, avoiding bias and thinking creatively need to be used in making decisions. In the article linked here, entitled How Jewish Organizations Can Survive the Pandemic I co-author a brief note for the The Forward  based on work I’ve done with the Union of Reform Judaism and the Reform Pay Equity Initiative  to consider these principles. 

You will all, no doubt, recognize these lessons from our own teaching applied in this particular context:

Our top suggestions to promote equity in a crisis:

  1. Check your bias at the door—reflect on what assumptions go into how reductions and downsizing are decided. Double check your planning to ensure that there are not unintended consequences that particularly harm women, minorities and other vulnerable populations—and then track this data. Correct, if needed, before continuing with the decisions. Repeat this process when restaffing occurs.

  2. Equity and equality are different. Fairness does not mean everyone is treated equally. People have different needs and are in different situations (i.e. across the board pay reductions are far more devastating at the lower end of the payscale).

  3. The most highly compensated can take the lead on pay reductions or voluntary give-back donations—and publicize this broadly. This does not mean breaking contracts or strong-arming employees, however.

  4. Balance between the economic health of the community and of the clergy and staff. For communities where the economic impact has not been so harsh, it is incongruous to insist on pay reductions. On the other hand, in communities hit hard, difficult decisions made in partnership are necessary.

  5. Consult with key stakeholders (community, clergy, staff, board, and other legal and financial experts) throughout the process. Go slow to go fast.

  6. Trust is hard to build and even harder to rebuild—assume the relationship is a long term one and act accordingly. Even those laid off from a congregation often stay as members and are part of the community. The ripple effects of broken trust will permeate the larger community.

  7. Remember that decisions made now accrue to the reputation of the congregation. These can both create stronger reputations when a crisis is handled well or can harm a reputation when decisions are poorly made. And, of course, this reputation affects future relationships among clergy, the board and the community.

  8. Consider transparency at every step to build trust.

  • Make the decision-making process transparent even when employment outcomes are private.
  • Consider the timing of announcements and the sharing of information as well as the balance of what is private so that everyone feels included and supported.
  • Consult with affected parties about how outcomes should be communicated (i.e. when layoffs are announced, with names or just positions, by whom and to whom).