Suspension is Not Necessarily a Neutral Act
In our latest brief Thomas Carroll Employment Law highlight why the High Court has ruled that suspending an employee without proper cause may be sufficient to breach the terms of mutual trust and confidence implied in all employment contracts.
In Agoreyo v London Borough of Lambeth, the suspension of a primary school teacher was found to be in breach of her contract, entitling her to treat her resignation as a constructive unfair dismissal.
Whilst suspension had previously been viewed as a ‘neutral’ act and not a disciplinary action, this ruling suggests that the potential stigma associated with a formal suspension must be avoided where unnecessary.
Ms Agoreyo’s suspension ensued from a pending disciplinary investigation where it was alleged that she used excessive force in attempting to control two children. The High Court criticised her employer’s failure to consider Ms Agoreyo’s version of events; whether suspension was necessary for a fair investigation; and other alternatives to suspension. Additionally, Ms Agoreyo’s suspension came only a few days after she received the supportive measures that she had been requesting in previous weeks. As these had not yet been fully implemented, the High Court found this to be a further breach of contract.
Although the question of whether a suspension is reasonable will depend on individual circumstances, this case illustrates that it should never be an automatic action. Before suspending an employee, it is vital to carefully consider the nature and severity of the allegations and any alternatives or risks to the suspension. In this case, the High Court was influenced by the potential stigma associated with suspending a qualified professional, such as a teacher, and the impact on their future career. This approach may be extended to other job roles in cases going forward.
Although incorporating the express right to suspend an employee in their contract of employment may assist in validating their suspension, it is crucial to always obtain professional advice before making significant employment decisions, especially in uncertain situations.
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