The heated debate over the employment rights of ministers of religion – or lack of them – is set to continue after a Church of England Rector won the right to a full hearing of his whistleblowing and constructive unfair dismissal claims.
The Rector’s claims against the Bishop of Worcester and the Worcester Diocesan Board of Finance Limited were struck out on jurisdictional grounds by an Employment Tribunal (ET) on the basis that he was neither an employee nor a worker as defined by the Employment Rights Act 1996.
However, in overturning that decision, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) noted that recent Supreme Court authority had gone some way to clarifying the law on this issue and ruled that the ET’s decision was infected by a number of errors of approach.
Remitting the case to the ET for full consideration, the EAT found that the ET had failed to focus on whether there was an express contract between the Rector and the Bishop, having regard to the rules and practices of the Church of England and the particular arrangements under which the former worked.
The ET had also erred in finding that the relationship between Rector and Bishop was exclusively defined by ecclesiastical or canon law and that that precluded the existence of an employment contract. Its approach to the question of whether the Rector could be viewed as ‘a worker’ was also flawed.
Noting that the ‘real question’ was whether the stipend paid to the Rector was remuneration for work that he was required to undertake, the EAT ruled that the ET had failed to adequately analyse the scope of the Bishop’s powers of ‘direction, control and discipline’ over the Rector.