24 November 2011 #Employment
The Birmingham Employment Tribunal is being asked to rule whether vicar Reverend Sharp is entitled to bring an unfair dismissal claim against the Diocese of Worcester.
After moving to the idyllic rural parish of Teme Valley South in January 2005, Reverend Sharpe alleges that he was subjected to a campaign of ‘intimidation from toxic parishioners’ which led to him developing stress-related ill-health. He claims that he was forced to resign from his post after parishioners slashed his tyres, smeared excrement over the family car, cut his internet and phone connections, stole his heating oil and even poisoned his dog. Moreover, he asserts that the Diocese of Worcester did nothing to protect him.
Reverend Sharpe’s claim for constructive unfair dismissal is being supported by the trade union Unite. However, lawyers for the Diocese of Worcester point to ecclesiastical laws which hold that Church of England clergy are not employees but office holders ‘employed by God’. The Diocese therefore contends that Reverend Sharpe is not eligible to bring an action for unfair dismissal as ‘God cannot be sued’. Although the Diocese conceded in 2008 that Reverend Sharpe was a worker, it is now seeking permission to withdraw that concession.
If the Tribunal rules that Reverend Sharpe is entitled to bring a claim against the Diocese of Worcester, it could have profound consequences for the Church of England, as well as other religious groups across the country, as their members would receive the protection of a raft of legislation, including the National Minimum Wage and the Working Time Directive.