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Ministers of Religion: Employment status

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Thanks to James English of Samuel Phillips solicitors for preparing this case summary

Could an ordained minister of the Church of England be an employee or a worker?

Possibly, held the EAT, in Sharpe v The Worcester Diocesan Board of Finance & Others.

The Claimant, a former Rector, brought claims of detriment on grounds of whistleblowing and constructive dismissal.  At a pre-hearing review, the employment tribunal held that he was neither an employee nor a worker and therefore they could not hear his claims.  The employment tribunal stated that it was not necessary to imply a contract of employment, and the position lacked the necessary element of personal service.

Overturning the employment tribunal's decision, the EAT reviewed the recent authorities on ecclesiastical offices and employment status, in particular, President of the Methodist Conference v  Preston.  According to the EAT, it was not a question of implying a contract out of necessity.  Various rules and instruments defined the relationship between the minister and the Church.  The question was whether these rules were characteristic of a contract, and if they were, was it one of employment.  The fact that the relationship was governed in part by canon law did not preclude a contractual relationship.  The matter was remitted to a fresh employment tribunal to reconsider the issue.