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Is suspension a breach of trust and confidence?

There are occasions when an educational establishment, such as a school, needs to suspend an employee to allow them to conduct a full and impartial review of facts surrounding a potentially serious allegation.

Previous court decisions have confirmed that suspension should never be a ‘knee jerk reaction’ to an allegation and careful consideration should be given before deciding to suspend an employee.

The Court of Appeal recently reached a decision in the case of London Borough of Lambeth v Agoreyo, which reviewed the circumstances in which the act of suspension could breach the implied term of trust and confidence between a school and an employee.

The facts

Agoreyo was employed as a primary school teacher and had less than two years’ service with the London Borough of Lambeth.

Having previously sought assistance with the pupils, Agoreyo was accused of using excessive force involving pupils with special educational needs on three occasions, including dragging a pupil across the floor.

The London Borough of Lambeth took the decision to suspend Agoreyo whilst a full investigation was conducted, leading to her resigning the same day, stating that the act of suspension amounted to a breach of the implied term of trust and confidence.

The decision

The Court of Appeal confirmed that there was no requirement for the school to prove that the suspension was necessary, nor a neutral act, but that an objective test should be applied as to whether there is reasonable and proper cause for suspension. The act of suspending an employee can breach the implied term of trust and confidence.

Going forward

This decision by the Court of Appeal is a helpful reminder that suspension should be well thought through and evidenced with careful consideration as to whether such action is reasonable and with proper cause. Educational establishments, such as schools, need to be considerate when determining whether to suspend an employee, as suspension can irreversibly damage a person’s reputation if they are later proven to be innocent.

If you need assistance with suspending an employee, contact our Employment & HR team on 01332 340 211.

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