Legal Updates

Employment Law – Ministers could have contracts of employment for “spiritual work” – Unfair Dismissal

 

In the case of Moore v President of the Methodist Conference [2009], Ms Moore, a Methodist Minister, resigned from her position and brought an action in the Employment Tribunal (ET) for constructive dismissal against the President of the Methodist Conference.  Her claim was dismissed by the ET on the basis that she could not be deemed an ‘employee’ of the Methodist Church with the meaning of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (s.230).  This being the case, she was barred from bringing a claim for unfair dismissal before an employment tribunal.

The ET’s rationale was that it had to follow the decisions involving ministers in earlier cases and, although the claimant was entitled to a stipend (a payment which is not salary but often likened to salary), the payment did not depend on work carried out by the claimant, which would normally be the case in an employer-employee relationship.  One of the cases focused on by the ET, President of the Methodist Conference v Parfitt [1984] (a Court of Appeal Case), placed great weight on the ‘spiritual nature’ of the role of a minister, and seemed to distinguish this from ‘normal’ employment.

Ms Moore successfully appealed to Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) which found, having looked closely at a later decision in the House of Lords in Percy v Church of Scotland Board of National Mission HL [2006], that the spiritual nature of a minister’s role in a church, should not automatically result in a presumption that there is no intention to create legal relations between the minister and church (contrary to Parfitt).  The EAT went on to consider at this point, whether there was a contract between Ms Moore and the Methodist church and, if so, whether it was an employment contract.  The EAT found that there was a contract and it was an employment contract, with Ms Moore being an employee of the Church.  Even if Ms Moore was not an employee when ordained as a minister, when she was subsequently appointed to her post as Superintendent Minister on the Methodist Church's Redruth Circuit, there was clearly an offer and acceptance of the post for a fixed term, and this was coupled with clear duties, information on remuneration, expenses, accommodation and holidays.  The EAT added that although Ms Moore had great deal of flexibility in the way she carried out her work, this did not make it inconsistent with an employment contract, as many professionals have such flexibility and discretion in carrying out their work.

Underhill P., sitting in the EAT, made the clear statement that there is no "necessary incompatibility between being the servant of God and being an employee of the Church".

The case has been referred back to the ET for the unfair dismissal claim to be heard.

If you require further information contact us at enquiries@rtcooperssolicitors.com

Visit http://www.rtcoopers.com/practice_employment.php   or http://www.employmentlawyersinlondon.com;

www.compromiseagreementlonuk.com; www.adviceoncompromiseagreement.com

© RT COOPERS, 2011. This Briefing Note does not provide a comprehensive or complete statement of the law relating to the issues discussed nor does it constitute legal advice. It is intended only to highlight general issues. Specialist legal advice should always be sought in relation to particular circumstances.

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