No Minister

The question of employment status of a Church of England minister was again considered by the Court of Appeal (“COA”) in the case of “Sharpe v The Bishop of Worcester [2015] EWCA Civ 399” and it found that the minister was neither an employee not a worker; he was therefore precluded from bringing claims for unfair dismissal and whistleblowing.

The Reverend, Mr Sharpe, worked as a rector and claimed that he had suffered detriment as a result of “whistleblowing” and that he was then constructively and unfairly dismissed. As Rector, Mr Sharpe was the holder of a freehold office, meaning that, until the recent introduction of an age limit, he could occupy it for life. He was expected to behave responsibly and was given considerable freedom to administer pastoral care as he saw fit; however, his “boss”, the Bishop of Worcestor had little day-to-day control over the way Mr Sharpe discharged his duties. For example, the Bishop, was not empowered to commence disciplinary proceedings or impose any sanction, and could not remove the Rector from the office.

The COA concluded that there was no contract in place between the minister and his superior and that the hallmarks of an employment relationship were not present. There was a lack of supervision and control, no right of summary dismissal and no real power for the Bishop to discipline the minister. Nor was there any legal person who could be said to be the minister’s employer. Furthermore, the claimant could not be classified as a worker.

In short, the Minister was neither an employee nor a worker and did not therefore have any unfair dismissal rights.

Whilst this case is set against the backdrop of the church, it brings to light the fundamentals of the employment relationship that must be present in order for the employment status test to be satisfied.

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