Vicar loses battle for job protection - Palmers Solicitors

Vicar loses battle for job protection

A former Worcestershire vicar has lost his battle for protection under employment law after the Court of Appeal ruled that he was not an employee but a religious office holder.

The ruling, delivered on 30 April, upheld an original employment tribunal finding that Mark Sharpe was not an employee of the Bishop of Worcester, the diocese or anyone else. The case went to the Court of Appeal after an employment appeal tribunal then decided that Rev Sharpe was an employee.

The case stemmed from Rev Sharpe’s claims that he had been driven out of his parish in Teme Valley South following a campaign of harassment against him and his family between 2005-2009, during which he alleged that his tyres were slashed, his mail tampered with and his dog poisoned.

The Bishop of Worcester, the Rt Rev Dr John Inge said: “We are delighted that the Court of Appeal has taken this view of the matter. There has been considerable consultation with the clergy on this issue…and clergy have consistently said that they don’t wish to change their status as office holders.

“To become employees, clergy would lose the freedoms which are at the heart of the church’s ministry and this is not something that they want to give up.”

The Unite union, which had supported the Rev Sharpe’s case, said it was “massively disappointed” by the decision, which it described as an “anachronistic throwback to a bygone era”.

The union added: “When you look at what faith workers do on a daily basis – the work they carry out – it’s what any right-thinking person would consider a job. The case should have been a simple one based on based on employment law. We will be considering the judgement fully and deciding on our next steps over the coming days.”

Palmers’ employment law expert Lara Murray said: “This is an unusual case and the decision that someone can carry out work on a full-time basis in exchange for pay, for a single organisation, and still not be regarded as an employee is likely to surprise many people.

“While the outcome is a disappointing one for the Rev Sharpe, the good news is that the vast majority of workers benefit from a range of employment rights – set out in law and in their employment contract – to make sure that they are treated fairly by their employer.

“If you are having problems at work and are unclear about your employment rights, you may find it helpful to discuss the issue with an employment law solicitor.

“We understand that the cost of legal advice may be a concern so we offer fixed fee interviews and in addition, can carry out work under many household or car insurance policies where there is cover for employment disputes. For more information, please contact our Employment Law team.”