Employment Status: Ministers of Religion

07 May 2015

Was a Rector, the holder of a statutory office, an employee or a worker for the purposes of protection from unfair dismissal and whistle-blowing detriment?

No, held the Court of Appeal this morning in Sharpe v The Bishop of Worcester.

With thanks to Daniel Barnett’s employment law bulletin for a summary of the case.

The employment tribunal had found that there was no express contract between the Bishop and the Rector. And although the terms of the Claimant’s appointment were clear, there was no necessity to imply a contract, because the terms were incidents of his statutory office.

That being so, the Claimant could neither be an employee for the purposes of unfair dismissal, nor a worker for the purposes of the whistleblowing provisions of the Employment Rights Act (ERA). In particular, the freedom of the clergy to go about "the cure of souls" in accordance with their own consciences was inimical to the existence of an employment relationship.

The Court of Appeal found no basis on which to disturb those findings, and confirmed that section 43K(1)(a) of the ERA can apply only where there is a contract.