The High Court has considered whether a suspension of an employee breached the implied term of trust and confidence entitling the employee to resign and claim constructive dismissal.
Agoreyo v London Borough of Lambeth
What was the background?
A school teacher was suspended for being too forceful when handling two pupils who were misbehaving in her class. No investigation had been carried out prior to the decision to suspend.
In suspending the teacher, the school noted that the suspension was “a neutral action” and did not amount to a disciplinary sanction. The stated purpose of the suspension was to allow for a fair investigation. That investigation would allow the employee to explain her side of the story, following which a decision would be made as to whether there was a case to answer.
On the day that she was suspended, the teacher resigned, and subsequently claimed constructive dismissal.
What was decided?
The court concluded that the teacher had been constructively dismissed. The main factors that were taken into account were:
- No investigation had been carried out prior to the decision to suspend.
- No alternatives to suspension were considered.
- It had not been explained to the employee why the investigation could not be carried out fairly without suspending her.
- Two out of the three allegations had been investigated previously but did not result in disciplinary action.
This judgment emphasises the need for caution when suspending staff. Suspension should not be the default position and should not be done without consideration of the alternatives. Some form of investigation may be required before suspension depending on the circumstances.
Suspension is generally not perceived as a neutral act, even when the employer offers assurances to that effect. An employee’s competence can easily be called into question when they are suspended. That is particularly the case for a vocational job as a teacher and there are serious accusations being made.
There may, after considering the alternatives, be very good grounds for a suspension. Here, for instance, suspension might be considered necessary to meet the school’s duty of care to children. However, if challenged in Tribunal, the school would have to be able to explain what other alternatives it had considered and why they were considered inappropriate.