A vicar who claims he was the victim of harassment has won an Employment Tribunal which could have a huge impact on the way the Church of England treats its clergy.
Rev Mark Sharpe said he and his family endured abuse and intimidation from parishioners after moving to Hanley Broadheath in Worcestershire, in 2005.
He eventually resigned in 2009 and sought proceedings for constructive dismissal at Birmingham employment tribunal, claiming damages against the Church
Unite, the union, had argued Rev Sharpe was an employee of the church when he sought redress for the loss of his job.
The Church of England contended that he was ‘an office holder’ and therefore not covered by current employment rights legislation.
However, Mrs Justice Cox in her judgement said, in essence, Rev Sharpe’s working arrangements included all of the key elements of a contract to allow the working relationship to be construed so that Rev Sharpe was an employee.
Unite have hailed the decision as ‘a great victory for the advancement of employment rights of Church of England clergy’ and called for the church authorities to enter into ‘a constructive, open and honest dialogue’ on the issues that decision has raised.
This now opens the way for a further employment tribunal to investigate the substantive issues that Rev Sharpe claims he had to endure while rector at Hanley Broadheath.
Unite national officer Rachael Maskell said: “This is a very welcome decision that vindicates Mark’s brave stand over the last eight years, not only in ministering to his parish, but fighting for compensation after he unfairly lost his job.
“Unite calls on the Church of England to enter into a constructive and open dialogue with us to ensure that Mark is properly compensated and, on the wider issue, of how employment rights for CoE clergy can be enshrined into the church’s employment practices.
“Our door is open for discussions to bring the employment rights of the clergy into the modern age, as they have been unchanged since the Church of England was set up by Henry VIII in the 1530s.”
Rev Sharpe said: “This decision has come as an immense relief. I never intended to set out on this journey, but I was forced down this route in order to seek recompense for my family and I.
“I feel vindicated by the stand that Unite has taken on my behalf and hope to move to a swift resolution of the outstanding issues with the church, so that I can move forward to the next chapter of my life.”