God given rights
Labour & European Law Review Weekly Issue 217 12 May 2011
In order to claim unfair dismissal, claimants have to show that they are employees. In Moore v The President of the Methodist Conference, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) said that ministers of the church can be employees if the arrangements under which they work are expected to give rise to legally-binding obligations.
Ms Moore was appointed as minister to a group of churches in Cornwall in 2006 for a five year term.
Although she was not given a written contract or a statement of terms and conditions, she received a stipend (or salary), holiday and sick pay, expenses and accommodation. She was also subject to an annual appraisal and an “elaborate disciplinary procedure”. Ms Moore received a P60 at the end of the tax year and the church deducted tax and national insurance from her stipend.
In the first half of 2009, she felt she was being put under unfair pressure to resign and in early June was told that procedures to curtail her appointment had started. She resigned on 10 June 2009 and claimed unfair dismissal.
The tribunal said that it was bound by the decision of the Court of Appeal in 1984 in President of Methodist Church Conference v Parfitt that Mr Parfitt (also a minister for the Methodist church who claimed unfair dismissal) was not an employee.
The Court in that case had concluded that the “spiritual nature” of being a minister meant that it was “impossible to conclude that any contract, let alone a contract of service, came into being between the newly ordained minister and the Methodist Church ...”
The EAT, however, disagreed. Following the decision of the House of Lords in Percy v Board of National Mission of the Church of Scotland in 2006, it said that a tribunal no longer has to consider “the nature of the relationship between a minister and his Church with the presumption that there was no intention to create legal relations”.
It took the view that as a result of that decision, the spiritual role of a minister could not, by itself, be used as evidence to deny the existence of a contract if all the other facts suggested otherwise.
In this case “all the indications point one way. She received regular remuneration, including an entitlement to sick pay. She was given accommodation. She was required to engage in an appraisal process, was subject to at least a degree of supervision from the Church and was liable to a disciplinary procedure. Although she did not have to work set hours, there was a clear concept of working time, when she was at the disposal of the Church, and holiday, when she was not. Of course, like any professional she had a great deal of discretion as to how she did her work, but that is in no way inconsistent with a contract of service”.
The arrangements therefore fell “squarely” within those described by the House of Lords in Percy which “on their face are to be expected to give rise to legally-binding obligations”.