Church backs down in battle with MOM

Church backs down in battle with MOM
Faith Community Baptist Church, led by Pastor Lawrence Khong (above), fired a worker in 2013 because of her alleged adulterous relationship with another married church worker. It did not give her the salary and maternity benefits she was entitled to under the Employment Act.

A church that took the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to the High Court over the sacking of a pregnant employee has backed down.

Faith Community Baptist Church (FCBC) said in a statement yesterday that it is dropping the High Court legal review because it now accepts the Manpower Minister's decision on the dismissal.

In 2013, the church fired the church worker because of her alleged adulterous relationship with another married church worker.

It did not give the woman, who was then in her late 30s, the salary and maternity benefits she was entitled to under the Employment Act.

The woman complained to the MOM and then Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin ordered the church to compensate her about $7,000.

The church paid up but subsequently took the case to the High Court to have Mr Tan's decision reviewed.

But yesterday, the church decided to withdraw its court application.

It said that it had initiated the High Court legal review to clarify "the boundaries under which a religious body such as FCBC is able to conduct its internal affairs in managing the organisation, subject to the applicable laws of the land".

It added that the court process has given it access to documents including Mr Tan's affidavit on the grounds of the decision, and it has since "come to understand and recognise the rationale/basis for the (Manpower) Minister's decision based on the specific facts of this case".

"As a responsible religious body/corporate citizen of this nation, FCBC accepts the minister's decision," it said.

FCBC noted that while the MOM takes the position that employment terms should be reasonable and should not govern the private lives of employees unless they relate to job performance, as a church it can include moral conduct in its terms of employment "in appropriate circumstances" when the conduct affects how workers perform in their jobs.

Besides issuing the statement on its website and Facebook page yesterday, the church also took the unusual step of buying advertisement space to publish its statement in full in The Straits Times and Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao today.

The 10,000-strong church, headed by Pastor Lawrence Khong, is one of Singapore's largest independent churches.

Mr Khong, who is a pastor-magician, has attracted controversy in the past with his strong views on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues.

When contacted, the MOM said it welcomes the church's decision not to pursue the case.

"Since FCBC has accepted the minister's decision and has withdrawn its case, we consider the matter closed," said an MOM spokesman.

But the case holds a lesson for employers, said the ministry.

"MOM wishes to remind all employers of the importance of clearly communicating upfront to a prospective employee his or her obligations under the contract, which must be reasonable and relevant to the requirements of the job."

tohyc@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on May 19, 2015.
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