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The High Court has held that the suspension of a teacher accused of having used unreasonable force against children was a repudiatory breach of contract, entitling the teacher to resign and claim constructive unfair dismissal.
In Agoreyo v London Borough of Lambeth the letter of suspension confirmed that the suspension was a neutral act and not a disciplinary sanction. It also confirmed that the purpose of the suspension was to allow the investigation to be conducted fairly.
The teacher resigned on the same day. She challenged the lawfulness of the suspension. She also argued that suspension was not reasonable or necessary in order for the investigation to take place.
The Court concluded that suspension was adopted as the default position and was a “knee-jerk reaction”. Suspension against this background was sufficient to breach the implied term of mutual trust and confidence, particularly as the reason given for the suspension was to allow a fair investigation to take place, and not in order to protect the children.
This is a useful reminder of the need for employers to be satisfied that they have reasonable and proper cause for suspending employees prior to doing so. Suspension should not be a routine response to the need for an investigation, particularly when serious allegations of wrongdoing are made against the employee. In the context of teachers, there is also statutory guidance which requires all other options to be considered before suspension, but it in practice, it is sensible for all employers to adopt this approach in light of the decision in this case.
For further information and advice contact the employment team on 0113 220 6270.