In the case of Lambeth v Agoreyo, the Court of Appeal considered on what basis an employer can properly suspend an employee, pending an investigation.
Simone Agoreyo (SA) was an experienced primary school teacher, teaching a Year 2 class of up to 29 children. Two of the children in SA’s class exhibited particularly challenging behavioural issues.
In her early weeks of teaching, three separate incidents took place involving these two children, in which SA used force in order to remove one of the two children from the classroom. SA had requested additional support in teaching these two children. Allegations of use of excessive force were made against SA, by two teaching assistants. Although two of the incidents were considered by the Head Teacher, who found SA had used reasonable force, following the third incident, SA was suspended pending an investigation and she resigned on the same day.
SA subsequently brought a claim in the County Court against the local borough for breach of contract, contending that her suspension was a repudiatory breach of the implied duty of trust and confidence. The County Court decided that the school ‘clearly had reasonable and proper cause to suspend the Claimant’ due to its ‘overriding duty to protect the children pending full investigation’ and dismissed SA’s claim. SA appealed.
The High Court allowed the appeal and substituted a judgement that SA’s suspension was a ‘knee-jerk reaction’ and was a breach of the implied term of trust and confidence. In reaching its decision, the Court stated that the ‘central issue’ is whether it was reasonable and/or necessary’ to suspend SA pending the investigation.
The Borough appealed to the Court of Appeal which held that there were clearly serious allegations of misconduct which needed to be investigated, and so long as the employer’s response was ‘reasonable and proper it could not be said that the employer had breached the implied term of mutual trust and confidence.’
The implication is that there is no requirement to prove it is a ‘necessity’ to suspend, the test is one of “reasonable and proper cause”.
The Court of Appeal allowed the Borough’s appeal and restored the judgement of the County Court.
Employers should still be careful not to suspend an employee solely as a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction as the risk of breaching a contract still remains. However, this case is good news for employers.
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