Suspension should not be a knee jerk decision
The High Court has found in the case of Agoreyo v London Borough of Lambeth , that the suspension of a teacher was not a neutral act and amounted to a breach of the implied term of trust and confidence.
Ms Agoreyo was a teacher suspended following allegations that she had used force in relation to two children. Ms Agoreyo had not been given the opportunity to comment on the allegations before a decision was taken to suspend and Lambeth did not provide any evidence to suggest that it had considered alternatives to suspension. The suspension was confirmed in writing and the reason given was to “allow the investigation to be conducted fairly” and that it was a “neutral act”. Ms Agoreyo resigned the same day.
Lambeth had argued that the suspension was to safeguard the children. This reason was not included in the suspension letter and no evidence was provided to suggest this was considered. In addition, Lambeth had not stated why an investigation could not be conducted fairly without suspension.
The High Court held that the suspension was not a neutral act but a knee jerk reaction amounting to a repudiatory breach of contract. The High Court was influenced by the potential stigma associated with suspending a qualified professional.
There are some important lessons to be learnt from this case.
- Allow the employee to comment on the allegations before deciding to suspend;
- Consider whether suspension is appropriate taking into account the potential stigma and impact on their future career. In doing so, consider whether there is an alternative to suspension;
- Consider the true purpose of the suspension for example, to safeguard others and ensure this is documented in writing.
We recommend that you review your contracts of employment to ensure you have the right to suspend and follow your internal procedures (which should also be reviewed) when suspending. This will help show that you acted reasonably and not in breach of your own contracts.