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Act 21, 2023 – Ministers’ Absences due to Ill-health

of a Minister or an Assistant Minister from work due to ill-health, enact and ordain as follows:

A. ABSENCE UP TO TWENTY-SIX WEEKS

1. Absence of Over Seven-days. Absence from work due to illness for more than seven consecutive days shall be reported to the Presbytery Clerk and a medical Statement of Fitness for Work shall be provided.

1.1. Minister. The Minister shall continue to provide such certificates, covering the whole period of absence, and a final certificate showing the date of return to work.

1.2. Presbytery. The Presbytery Clerk shall:

1.2.1. Record the dates of commencement and end of absence in a record apart.

1.2.2. Inform the Presbytery of the Minister’s absence.

1.2.3. Inform the Chief Executive Officer and the Finance Manager of the Minister’s absence.

1.2.4. Inform the Chief Executive Officer and the Finance Manager of the Minister’s return to work.

1.2.5. Inform the Convener of the Presbytery’s Pastoral Team as soon as possible so that the appropriate support for the Minister and his family may be set in motion.

1.3. Ministry. The Minister should not undertake any duties in relation to his office unless the Statement of Fitness for Work allows him to do so.

1.4. Pastoral Support. Presbyteries should always, when dealing with the illness of Ministers, bear in mind their obligation to exercise pastoral care toward Ministers, and toward congregations where many pastoral and other needs may arise in the absence of the Minister. Presbyteries are reminded of the central role of their Pastoral Team in providing this support.

2. Extended Absence. If the absence from work exceeds four weeks and continues up to twelve weeks, the Presbytery shall proceed as follows at each stage:

2.1. Four Weeks. If the illness is expected to exceed four weeks, the Presbytery shall discuss with the Minister and Congregation through their Pastoral Team what support is needed.

2.1.2. The Presbytery shall consider the pastoral needs of the Congregation and take appropriate action for the welfare of the Congregation.

2.2. Eight Weeks. If the absence of the Minister exceeds, or is expected to exceed, eight weeks, the following will apply:

2.2.1. Presbytery shall appoint an Interim Moderator in consultation with the Kirk Session if this step has not already been taken.

2.2.2. The Presbytery’s Pastoral Team shall continue to monitor the Minister’s progress throughout the term of his absence.

2.3. Independent Medical Report. If the absence of the Minister exceeds eight weeks, the Presbytery Pastoral Team shall consider the need for an Independent Medical Report.

2.3.1. The Presbytery will seek the consent of the Minister before proceeding to arrange an Independent Medical Report.

2.3.2.The Independent Medical Report will address issues such as the Minister’s health and prognosis, any work-related factors which may delay a return to work, an assessment of the Minister’s capability to return to work, or any necessary adjustments to the working arrangements that might facilitate a return to work.

2.3.3. The Pastoral Team should contact the Chief Executive Officer or the Finance Manager for a list of recommended providers and a budget for such a report.

2.3.4. The costs of up to three Medical Reports per absence will be paid by the Mission Board.

2.3.5. The terms of the Medical Report will in each case be communicated to the Chief Executive Officer.

2.4. Twelve Weeks. If the illness is expected to exceed twelve weeks, the Presbytery shall send a letter to the Clerk of the Mission Board and the Chief Executive Officer outlining how the Minister’s absence from work is managed and how the needs of the Congregation are met.

3. Return to Work. If the Minister is able to return to his duties at any stage of this period of absence from work, the Presbytery shall consider the need for a Return-to-Work Plan and, if they agree that such a plan is necessary, shall follow the procedure set out in Section D below.

B. ABSENCE OF TWENTY-SIX TO FIFTY-TWO WEEKS

1. Twenty-six Weeks. If the illness exceeds twenty-six weeks, the Presbytery shall proceed as follows:

1.1. Independent Medical Report. The Presbytery Pastoral Team shall consider the need to obtain an Independent Medical Report, following the procedure in Section A, Paragraph 3.3 above. 

1.2. Congregational Meeting. The Presbytery shall meet with the Congregation by the end of week thirty of the absence to ascertain:

1.2.1.Their condition in the light of their Minister’s absence.

1.2.2. Their views on the most satisfactory way of meeting their pastoral and other needs.

1.3. Ministerial Arrangements. As a result of the Congregational Meeting, the Presbytery will consider appropriate ministerial arrangements for the Congregation in the continuing absence of the Minister in consultation with the Mission Board.

1.3.1. The Presbytery will seek to balance the needs of the Congregation with the circumstances of the Minister and his family when making the ministerial arrangements.

2. Thirty-nine Weeks. If the illness exceeds thirty-nine weeks, the Presbytery shall proceed as follows:

2.1 Independent Medical Report. The Presbytery shall obtain an Independent Medical Report, following the procedure in Section A, Paragraph 3.3 above.

3. Fifty-two Weeks. If in the light of the Independent Medical Report the illness is expected to exceed fifty-two weeks, the Presbytery shall:

3.1. Meet with the Congregation to give an update on the current situation regarding the Minister’s absence and to consider the way ahead.

3.2. Assess the Congregational needs and its spiritual health.

3.3. Report on the present situation to the Mission Board.

3.4 The Presbytery will ensure that steps are taken to protect matters of confidentiality in all situations.

4. Return to Work Plan. If the Minister is able to return to his duties at any stage of this period of absence from work, the Presbytery shall prepare a Return-to-Work Plan and will follow the procedure set out in Section D below.

C.ABSENCE OF ONE YEAR TO EIGHTEEN MONTHS 

1. One Year. If at the end of fifty-two weeks of absence the Minister is still unable to fully resume his duties, the Presbytery shall either: 

1.1. Declare that the Minister’s pastoral tie with the Congregation will be dissolved; or

1.2 Declare that exceptional circumstances exist that justify a decision not to dissolve the pastoral tie.

2. Dissolving the Pastoral Tie. If the pastoral tie is to be dissolved, the Presbytery shall proceed as follows:

2.1. Date. The Presbytery shall agree a date for the dissolution of the pastoral tie with due regard to all the circumstances.

2.2. Minister. The Presbytery shall inform the Minister that the pastoral tie is to be dissolved. They shall explain to him the reasons behind the Presbytery’s decision.

2.3. Congregation. The Presbytery shall meet with the congregation to inform them of the decision to dissolve the pastoral tie, and to explain the reasons behind the Presbytery’s decision.

2.4. Central Office. The Presbytery shall also inform the CEO and the Mission Board.

2.5. Stipend. A Minister loosed from his charge at this stage shall be eligible to receive the full stipend for a period of up to six months from the date on which the pastoral tie is dissolved, or until taking up another appointment or employment, whichever is earlier, subject to a maximum of eighteen months full stipend in total, from the first day of absence, as outlined in Section E below.

2.6. Roll of Resigned Ministers. The name of a Minister loosed from his pastoral charge in this way will be added to the Roll of Resigned Ministers.

3. Exceptional Circumstances. The Presbytery shall consider at this stage if exceptional circumstances exist and, if so, shall proceed as follows:

3.1 Classification. The circumstances will be classified as exceptional on the basis of one of the following:

3.1.1 Based on the Medical Report and Statement of Fitness for work, the Minister’s return to work is imminent.

3.1.2. Based on the Medical Report and the Presbytery’s assessment of the Minister, a return to work will be possible within the next twelve weeks.

3.1.3. Where it is in the best interests of the Minister and the congregation not to dissolve the pastoral tie at this time, in which case full stipend will continue for a maximum of eighteen months in total as outlined in Section E.1 below.

3.2. Records. The Presbytery shall record in its minutes the reasons which constitute the exceptional circumstances.

3.3. Mission Board. The Presbytery will consult with the Mission Board before declaring that exceptional circumstances exist and will inform the CEO. 

4. Return to Work. If the Minister is able to return to his duties at any stage of this period of absence from work, the Presbytery shall prepare a Return-to-Work Plan and will follow the procedure set out in Section D below.

D. RETURN TO WORK

1. Return to Work Plan. The Presbytery shall consider the need for a Return-to-Work Plan when preparing for a return to work.

1.1. Optional. A Return-to-Work Plan is at the discretion of the Presbytery when considering a Minister’s return to duties after up to a four-week absence from work.

1.2. Compulsory. A Return-to-Work Plan is required when preparing for a Minister’s return to work at any other stage of the process set out in this Act.

1.3. Extension. The implementation of a Return-to-Work Plan may be extended at the end of the phased return-to-work period when it is the considered opinion of the Presbytery that this will be of benefit to the Minister and the Congregation.

1.3.1 The implementation of a Return-to-Work Plan may not be extended when the Plan has commenced at the end of a fifty-two-week absence from work.

2. The Plan. The Presbytery will appoint its Pastoral Team to prepare and manage the Return-to-Work Plan.

2.1 Period. The Plan will cover an initial period of twelve weeks. 

2.2. Contents. The Plan shall set out a route map clearly showing: (a) the duties to be carried out during the phased return; (b) the weekly time allocation for the designated task; (c) the arrangements for the monthly review of the phased return; (d) the increased level of duties to be undertaken after each successful review to ensure progress through the programme; and (e) the outcome should the phased return prove to be unsuccessful.

2.3. Statement of Fitness for Work. The Pastoral Team shall proceed to formulate a Return-to-Work Plan on receipt of the GP’s Statement of Fitness for Work and the GP’s advice regarding a phased return to work. 

2.4. Assessment. The Pastoral Team shall assess the Minister’s ability to take up the full duties of the ministry.

2.4.1. The primary purpose of the return-to-work assessment is to make sure that the Minister is fit to perform the tasks involved in the ministry effectively and without further risk to his own health.

2.5. The Process. The Pastoral Team shall proceed as follows in preparing the Return-to-Work Plan:

2.5.1. They shall consult with the Minister’s GP, with the consent of the Minister, and shall make suitable adjustments to the Plan if the Minister is diagnosed with a disability.

2.5.2. They shall consult with the Mission Board before finalising the Plan.

2.5.3. They shall agree the Plan with the Minister.

2.6. The Presbytery. The Presbytery shall approve the Plan.

2.6.1. They shall communicate the Plan to the Congregation.

2.6.2 They shall inform the Chief Executive Officer that the Plan has been agree

2.7. Implementation. The Presbytery shall appoint a member of the Presbytery Pastoral Team to support the Minister and monitor the implementation of the plan. The person appointed will report to the Presbytery before each monthly review or before then should circumstances change. The Presbytery shall make such adjustments and modifications as are considered necessary to enable the phased return to work.

3. The Outcomes. The possible outcomes from a Return-to-Work process are as follows:

3.1. Return to Work. The Return-to-Work Plan has been successful, and the Minister is ready to resume full pastoral duties.

3.2. Extension. The Return-to-Work Plan has assisted the Minister in working towards full duties but needs to be extended for a second and final twelve-week period.

3.3. Part-time Duties. The Return-to-Work Plan has highlighted that the Minister is not able to take up fulltime duties but may be ready for part-time ministry. The Presbytery may then consider a permanent reduction to hours or expected duties under the provisions of Alternative Ministerial Arrangements.

3.4 Unable to Return to Work. The Minister has not been able to complete the Return-to-Work Plan and it is clear to Presbytery that the pastoral tie should be dissolved.

4. Dissolving the Pastoral Tie. The Presbytery may, at any stage of the Minister’s absence from work beyond the twenty-sixth week of absence, conclude that he is unable to meet the demands of the pastoral ministry and that the pastoral tie should be dissolved. The Presbytery will come to this conclusion on the basis of the medical assessments, their own review of the situation, and in the best interests of the Minister and the Congregation. The terms and the process of Section C.2 above will apply in all cases where the pastoral tie is dissolved.

5. Return to Work. If the Minister is able to return to his duties at any stage of the Return-to-Work programme, the Presbytery will inform the CEO and the Mission Board and will ensure that the Minister is adequately supported by the Pastoral Team.

E. MISCELLANEOUS

1. Minister’s Consent. The Presbytery will proceed with the management of the absence in consultation with, and with the consent of, the Minister.

1.1. Failure to Consent. If the Minister fails to consent at any stage of the process, the Presbytery will note the failure. They will remind the Minister that he is under the jurisdiction of the Presbytery and bound to cooperate with them in the spirit of the gospel.

1.2. Implementation. The Presbytery will inform the Minister that they must proceed with the implementation of the process in their duty of care for him and for his congregation.

2. Disability Discrimination. The Presbytery will always give due consideration to the provisions of the Equality Act and matters of disability discrimination.

3. Stipend. The maximum total period of payment of full stipend to a Minister who is unable to fulfil his duties due to ill-health, is eighteen months.

3.1. Rolling Period. This is the maximum amount of full stipend that will be paid in any three-year rolling period. Any additional absence from the Congregation will be unpaid.

3.2. Cumulative. If a Minister has a phased return to work, or undertakes reduced duties for a temporary period, stipend will continue to be paid at the full rate, but the time will count towards the eighteen-month total.

4. Intermittent Absence. In the event of a Minister being absent through illness or unable to fulfil his duties intermittently for more than twelve weeks in total over a period of two years, the Presbytery, in consultation with the Mission Board, will decide a plan of action appropriate to the case.

4.1. Exceeding Twenty-six Weeks. If the intermittent absence, or inability to fulfil duties, due to ill-health exceeds twenty-six weeks in total over a period of two years, the terms of Paragraph B.1 apply.

4.2. Exceeding Thirty-nine Weeks. If the intermittent absence or inability to fulfil duties exceeds thirty-nine weeks in total in any three-year period, the terms of Paragraph B.2 onwards apply.

5. Minister’s Entitlement. The Minister’s entitlement to the financial provisions of this Act in managing an absence from work will be subject to a graduated level of entitlement in the first three years of ministry as follows:

5.1. First Year of Ministry. If the Minister is in the first year of his ministry when his absence from work begins, he will be paid full stipend for a maximum of six months.

5.2. Second Year of Ministry. If the Minister has been in the ministry for more than one year but less than two years when his absence from work begins, he will be paid full stipend for a maximum of nine months.

5.3. Third Year of Ministry. If the Minister has been in the ministry for more than two years but less than three years when his absence from work begins, he will be paid full stipend for up to a maximum of twelve months.

5.4. Pastoral Tie. In such circumstances the Presbytery may need to decide if the pastoral tie should be dissolved sooner following the process set out in Paragraph C.2 above.

5.5. Supply Costs. If stipend stops and the pastoral tie is not dissolved, the Congregation can apply to the Finance Manager for reimbursement of supply costs in line with the regulations for vacant congregations.

6. General Provisions

6.1. Confidentiality. All discussions on personnel matters should be treated as strictly confidential.

6.1.1. Any papers distributed should be returned to the Presbytery Clerk by the close of the Presbytery meeting. The Clerk should proceed to shred all documentation, other than papers retained for the purposes of the minutes.

6.1.2. In exceptional circumstances where papers are distributed electronically, all electronic papers held by members of the Presbytery and the Mission Board shall be deleted.

6.2. Pastoral Support. The Presbytery shall offer the Minister such assistance and advice as it deems appropriate in all the circumstances.

6.2.1 The Presbytery Pastoral Team shall inform the Board of Ministry of the Minister’s absence and return-to-work arrangements so that additional pastoral support may be provided by the Board as required.

6.3. A Minister who is absent because of illness may not attend a meeting of a Court, Board or Committee of the Church.

6.4. A Minister may apply to Presbytery to resign or retire on the grounds of ill health.

7. Financial Provisions

7.1. The costs of up to three independent medical examinations will be met by the Mission Board for which due budgetary provision will be made annually. Costs should be agreed with the Chief Executive Officer or Finance Manager.

7.2. Each Presbytery shall make financial provision for any additional support that may be deemed necessary for the Minister and his family during his absence through the provisions of a Presbytery Benevolent Fund.

7.3 Pension contributions at the full amount shall be conserved as long as full stipend continues to be paid.

7.4 For a Minister who was an active member of the closed Free Church of Scotland Pension Scheme, applications for early retirement on the grounds of incapacity will be subject to the rules of the Scheme.

8. Repeals

The General Assembly repeal Act 4, Class 2, 2002 and Act 18, Class 2, 2010.