Teacher's suspension was not a breach of contract


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The Court of Appeal has held in Agoreyo v London Borough of Lambeth that the suspension of a teacher to enable a misconduct investigation to be carried out fairly did not constitute a repudiatory breach of the implied term of trust and confidence. This reverses the decision of the High Court and gives employers more freedom to suspend without fear of repercussion when they want to investigate misconduct.

The teacher was hired to teach a class of children, two of whom were particularly challenging. She was not told before the offer of employment that she would be teaching children who had such severe behavioural, emotional and social difficulties and did not have any training in how to deal with such children. She was suspended because of the force she used in three incidents involving the two children.

During the period of her employment (which amounted to a few weeks) the teacher spoke on several occasions to the head teacher about the difficulties she was experiencing. Prior to the last incident the teacher sent an email in which she asked for other members of staff "to be more hands on and helpful". Following this email it was agreed that support would be put in place, yet the suspension occurred almost straight away before the support had had time to take effect.

In the Court of Appeal's opinion the suspension was not sufficient to breach the implied term relating to trust and confidence. The question to consider was whether the way in which the employer had responded to reports received of possible misconduct was reasonable and proper, so that matters could be investigated. If the response was reasonable and proper it could not be said that the employer had breached the implied term of mutual trust and confidence. As the context was one in which the employer had to safeguard the interests of very young children, the Court concluded that the school had reasonable and proper cause for suspension in this case.

Take note: Following the decision in Agoreyo employers will be able to suspend individuals in order to investigate misconduct without worrying about automatically breaching the implied term of trust and confidence. However, it's worth noting that the issue of suspension is always going to be highly fact specific, and in this instance there were safeguarding concerns which made the employer's action reasonable. It will still be wise to avoid suspending as a knee-jerk reaction unless it is a reasonable and proper course of action.

This article is taken from HR Law - April 2019.

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