ONE of Singapore's biggest independent churches has been ordered by the Government to compensate a female church worker fired because of her alleged adulterous relationship.
The female employee at Faith Community Baptist Church (FCBC) had gone to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) after she was sacked last September when the church found out she was pregnant with the child of another church employee.
The ministry said that it looked into the complaint and found that the woman was "dismissed without sufficient cause within six months of her delivery date".
The church did not give her the salary and maternity benefits she was entitled to under the Employment Act.
The Act protects an expectant mother from her fourth month of pregnancy.
If she is sacked without sufficient cause during this period, her employer must pay her maternity benefits.
In this case, Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin directed the church to pay her about $7,000, including maternity benefits.
The woman was understood to have been about seven months pregnant when she was sacked.
The church refused to do so, claiming that its employees and members were expected to adhere to certain moral standards.
The impasse dragged on for nearly a year before the church finally relented after a discussion with MOM yesterday.
The 10,000-strong church's senior pastor, Mr Lawrence Khong, told The Straits Times that the woman's pregnancy was discovered last April.
"When we asked her, she admitted to having an affair with another colleague even before her divorce proceedings were final," said Mr Khong.
The woman, in her late 30s, handled administrative and coordination work for the church, while the man was a divorcee in his 50s. He was a colleague in the same department but has since resigned.
She could not be reached.
Mr Khong said the church was willing to let the woman, a church member, keep her baby and job.
But she had to apologise for her actions, attend counselling and end the relationship.
The woman attended some counselling sessions, but continued to see the man, the church said.
The pastor acknowledged that the woman's employment contract did not explicitly state that adultery was just cause for sacking. But he added that it is "something that all employees know".
Under the law, the minister can order an employer to pay maternity benefits and employers who refuse can be fined up to $10,000 and jailed up to one year.
Mr Khong told The Straits Times last night that the church will compensate the woman on MOM's orders, but it will be making it clear to the ministry that it will not concede that the dismissal was unjust.
"We are a church. If we concede that the dismissal was unjust, it means we are condoning adultery and it will weaken our moral and spiritual authority in the organisation," he said.
This story was first published in The Straits Times on Aug 20, 2013
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