Sunday, 27 March 2011

Methodist minister ruled employee not office holder

Updated

A recent decision of the Employment Appeal Tribunal is concerned with the employment status of Methodist ministers.

The case is UKEAT/0219/10/DM between Ms H. A. Moore and The President of the Methodist Conference. The judgment, dated 15 March 2011 is available here, and can also be downloaded from here. (49 pages as a .doc file).

Here’s a news report from the Western Morning News Female church minister wins landmark employment rights case.

A sacked [but see comment below] female minister in Cornwall has won a landmark ruling to bring a case against the Methodist Church for unfair dismissal.

The decision by the Employment Appeal Tribunal reverses an earlier decision by the Court of Appeal and paves the way for all clergy to challenge their employers in the courts.

The tribunal concluded that Haley Moore, who was dismissed as a minister in Redruth, was an employee under the Employment Rights Act and can take action against her former employer, the President of the Methodist Conference.

The Unite union, which has been fighting for equal rights at work for religious workers for 16 years, said the decision was a “significant step forward”.

but note also:

A Methodist Church spokesman said it would appeal the ruling.

Kenneth Howcroft, assistant secretary of conference, said: “The Methodist Church is seeking an appeal against the judgement that Haley Moore’s case is a matter for an employment tribunal.

“As it stands, Methodist ministers are office holders, not employees, of the Church and have legal rights of redress under long established, procedural channels.”

And a press release from the solicitors: New Landmark Employment Ruling for Clergy.

The decision of the Employment Appeal Tribunal is a significant step towards achieving this as it establishes that a Methodist minister is an employee under employment legislation, which is contrary to the Court of Appeal’s decision about Methodist ministers in 1984. The Methodist Church has 21 days from the date of the EAT’s order of 15 March 2011 to make an application for leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal.”

And a press release from the Trade Union: Church of England urged ‘to smell the coffee’ over employment rights, following landmark ruling in Cornwall.

Religion Law Blog carries some comment on this by Neil Addison:

In Moore v The President Of The Methodist Conference BAILII:[2010] UKEAT 0219_10_1503 the Employment Appeals Tribunal decided that a Methodist Minister was an Employee for the purposes of Employment Law, in this case a claim for unfair dismissal. The EAT applied an earlier House of Lords case Percy v. Church of Scotland [2005] UKHL 73 in which the House of Lords decided that a Church of Scotland Minister was an employee.

Prior to Percy the general assumption in law was that religious ministers, of all denominations, were office holders rather than employees and so were not protected under unfair dismissal and/or discrimination law. In Percy however the House of Lords decided that, on the specific facts, the Minister in the case was an employee and the same decision was made in Moore as regards a Methodist minister.

How far this principle will extend is difficult to determine. It is possible that Denominations which have a very sacramental view of the status and role of the Clergy, such aside the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, will continue to be able to claim that their clergy are “office holders” rather than employees. However for Free Church Ministers, Rabbi’s and Immans the position may be different and they may be held to be employees of their respective congregations should they decide to sue for unfair dismissal or discrimination.

Update

The full text of the Methodist Conference statement quoted in part above:

The Revd Kenneth Howcroft, Assistant Secretary of the Methodist Conference, said: “The Methodist Church is seeking leave to appeal against the judgement that Haley Moore’s case is a matter for an employment tribunal. It is treating the matter with great seriousness as something that would affect all our ministers. The Court of Appeal held as long ago as 1984 that Methodist ministers are not employees. A minister’s role is one which is traditionally based on the ethos and laws of the Church rather than on a secular ethos. Our ministers have legal rights of redress under Church procedures. The Methodist Church cares for all who serve it, whether lay or ordained, paid or volunteer, and we want to ensure that we treat everyone fairly and properly.”

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Sunday, 27 March 2011 at 11:14pm BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: equality legislation
Comments

Why do Churches treat clergy so badly ? Is it just an organisational thing, incompetence, abuse of power, or what ?

I've noticed great lack of consideration through to abuse.

At least anglicans had parson's freehold now being done away with and no effective protection in its place.

Then it filters down and some people in the pew start calling late etc for no (good) reason, destroying the family life and sanity of ministers and their families.

Parishoner : " I thought I'd ring now as you'd back for your meal" ! -oh Really ?!

Bishop:"You'll have to live in temporary accommodation for a few months, till house is ready" - WHY are vicarages so often not ready in time ? "It won't effect Pamela and your 3 pre-school children / mother with dementia, adversely- I'm sure."

Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Monday, 28 March 2011 at 4:40pm BST

For the sake of us poor US citizens (I have no idea how this would apply elsewhere in North America or in international dioceses of the Episcopal Church), what is the distinction of "office holder?" Here we are either employees or self-employed - and often both. That is, we are self-employed for purposes of payroll taxes and for Social Security and Medicare taxes, and treated as employed for other purposes. We do not have the third option.

Posted by: Marshall Scott on Monday, 28 March 2011 at 5:30pm BST

Laurence: "Why do Churches treat clergy so badly ? Is it just an organisational thing, incompetence, abuse of power, or what ?"

Incompetence mostly, I think. People in senior positions in the Church have invariably been saved from needing to dirty their hands in the "normal" workplace for many decades, and thus generally are very out of kilter with how other employers have had to come up to speed (because laws have forced them to) in so many areas of employment practice in recent years. It seems, from those I know, common for NSMs to get quite a shock when coming into the Church from being used to the normal standards of workplace and organisational efficiency practised everywhere else.

Posted by: Fr Mark on Tuesday, 29 March 2011 at 9:28am BST

Common Tenure is actually good news for Church of England Clergy and gives them the rights of employees with the benefits of being an office holder. So I'm not sure that UNITE are really on to the best thing for all clergy in seeking employment status. It is interesting that some of us who hold dual role posts in the C of E are not being offered Common Tenure but employee status for our Diocesan roles. I would actually prefer to have Common Tenure as I believe it has advantages over employment.

Posted by: Canon Andrew Godsall on Tuesday, 29 March 2011 at 12:25pm BST

What Fr Mark said. Spot on I'd say. Very helpful analysis

Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Tuesday, 29 March 2011 at 1:04pm BST

Hi Marshall,

Our situation as clergy in the UK is just about as described by you. "Office Holder" is a term to describe this dichotomy and to try to justify it.

Mike

Posted by: Mike Bossingham on Tuesday, 29 March 2011 at 1:20pm BST

I should point out that the newspaper report (first link above) is incorrect to say that Ms Moore was sacked. If you read the judgment it is quite clear from para 1 that:

1. The Claimant was ordained a Methodist minister in 2003. In 2006 she was appointed, for a five-year term, as minister to a group of congregations in Cornwall. Over the course of the first half of 2009, following various problems of which we do not know the details, she felt that she was put under unfair pressure to resign; and in early June she was told that procedures were being commenced for her appointment to be “curtailed”. By letter from her solicitors dated 10 June 2009 she submitted her resignation from that appointment.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Tuesday, 29 March 2011 at 7:15pm BST

"we want to ensure that we treat everyone fairly and properly"

If I may quote (of all people!) President Ronald Reagan: "Trust, but verified." Verified by the secular courts!

Posted by: JCF on Thursday, 31 March 2011 at 1:47am BST

This is interesting.

There are dioceses who take the "these aren't employees" and so therefore they are exempt from discrimination law to not just gloss over their abuse of employees, but also to make themselves outside of the law in terms of how they treat females.

This precedent could have implications for a number of high profile dioceses...

Posted by: Cheryl Va. on Thursday, 31 March 2011 at 11:06am BST

The _Church Times_ Legal Correspondent has a succinct summary of the case at
http://www.churchtimes.co.uk/content.asp?id=110040
but access to this is restricted to subscribers until next Friday.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Friday, 1 April 2011 at 8:11am BST

Clergy (at least the beneficed priests among them) are certainly treated by the Church as 'employees' - demanding certain standards of employment. Why should they not also gain some of the benefits - like a proper advocacy?

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Saturday, 2 April 2011 at 12:25am BST
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