Lesson learnt…suspension of teacher was not a neutral act
22 August 2017 #Discipline & Grievance
In Agoreyo v London Borough of Lambeth, three allegations of unreasonable force against pupils were made against a primary school teacher. Despite the head of the school having already dismissed two of the allegations, the executive head suspended Ms Agoreyo due to the allegations and sent a letter to say that the suspension was a neutral act to allow the “investigation to be conducted fairly”.
Ms Agoreyo resigned on the day of suspension and claimed in the County Court that the suspension was a repudiatory breach of the implied duty of trust and confidence, as suspension was not necessary for the investigation to proceed. The County Court felt that the school was “bound” to suspend Ms Agoreyo.
On appeal, the High Court disagreed. The High Court held that suspending Ms Agoreyo was not a neutral act (especially as Ms Agoreyo was in a vocational profession). The High Court felt that there were alternatives to suspension and there had been no attempt to hear Ms Agoreyo’s version of events nor consider the alternatives. The school could not rely on child protection as they had confirmed in writing the suspension was to ensure a fair investigation but no explanation was given as to why. The Court found the suspension a “default position” and a “knee jerk reaction,” which breached the implied term of trust and confidence (enabling Ms Agoreyo to resign and claim constructive dismissal).
The case is a reminder to all employers that before suspending someone, careful consideration must take place, identifying why suspension is necessary and considering alternatives. It will help justify a decision to suspend if the right is expressly provided for in the employment contract.
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