The High Court has decided that the suspension of a teacher, to allow for a misconduct investigation to be carried out, constituted a repudiatory breach of contract.
Agoreyo v London Borough of Lambeth, HC
Ms Agoreyo was an experienced primary school teacher at a Lambeth school. Two children in her class exhibited highly challenging behaviour. Shortly after starting work at the school, it was alleged that she had used unreasonable force towards one of the children on three occasions. Two of these instances had been looked into by the head teacher, who concluded that reasonable force had been used by Ms Agoreyo.
The school’s executive head subsequently informed Ms Agoreyo that she was being suspended in order for a fair investigation to be carried out. Ms Agoreyo immediately submitted notice of resignation.
She later alleged that her suspension amounted to a repudiatory breach of trust and confidence, as it was not reasonable or necessary in order for the investigation to take place. The County Court held that Lambeth was “bound” to suspend Ms Agoreyo on the grounds of its over-riding duty to protect children.
High Court decision
The High Court allowed the appeal. The County Court had, apparently, considered there to be no alternative to suspension in order to protect children, but the stated aim of the suspension was to ensure a fair investigation rather than child protection. In addition, Lambeth had made a number of errors in the process it had followed prior to the suspension. There was no evidence that it had ascertained either Ms Agoreyo’s or the head’s version of events, and had not properly considered why suspension was necessary in order to conduct a fair investigation. The High Court decided that suspension had been adopted as the “default position” and was a “knee-jerk reaction”. The court was satisfied that there had been a breach of the implied term or trust and confidence.
This case provides a reminder that the question of suspending an employee should be a matter for very careful consideration and not a knee-jerk reaction. Employers must consider whether suspension is necessary and make sure alternatives to suspension are taken into account. A record should be kept of why suspension was considered appropriate in each case.
This article is from the September 2017 issue of Employment Law, our monthly newsletter on employment legislation and regulation. To download the latest issue, please visit the newsletter section of our website. Law covered as at September 2017.
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The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at September 2017.