Can you claim unfair dismissal when God is your boss?

Traditionally, the answer to that question was no.  Clergy could not claim unfair dismissal because they were officeholders who were subject to a divine calling, rather than employees.

However, a number of cases found that clergy could be employees and so they could claim unfair dismissal. 

In 2013 the Supreme Court then reverted to the traditional view, holding that a Methodist Minister (Ms Preston) was not an employee:

I have just dealt with a claim in which a Minister from another denomination attempted to claim unfair dismissal.  I acted on behalf of the church and argued that he was an employee rather than an officeholder.  The arrangements were similar to those in the Preston case.  In both cases:

  1. The ministers did not have written contracts of employment and their relationship with the Church was governed by the constitution.  
  2. Ministers are ordained by the denomination and then stationed at a particular church.
  3. The Ministers received a regular stipend and a manse.
  4. Ministers had recognised duties but a high level of autonomy.

Given the high similarity between the two cases, it was no surprise that the employment tribunal agreed with us that the Minister was not an employee so his claim for unfair dismissal was dismissed.

This case confirms that Church Ministers can be treated as officeholders rather than employees.  Some Churches choose to treat Ministers as employees, which is fine, but if they do not want them to have employment status, they should avoid giving them anything that looks like an employment contract.

I act for many churches in different denominations who subscribe to our retainer service, which provides unlimited advice on employment law issues: Keelys LLP Employment Solicitors in Lichfield | Employment Law Experts

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