Mandatory interim injunction granted to permit suspended employee to return to work
The High Court has held in Harrison v Barking, Havering & Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust that a solicitor was entitled to a mandatory interim injunction permitting her to perform most of her duties autonomously. Previous suspensions had the effect of enabling her to return to work only if she undertook severely restricted duties.
Ms Harrison, the Deputy Head of Legal Services, was suspended following concerns about her handling of a clinical negligence case. She was not provided with details of the allegations and was subsequently diagnosed with stress. When the Trust asked her to undertake a phased return to work on restricted duties she refused on the basis that it was a demotion, and was suspended again for refusing to obey an instruction. She sought an injunction permitting her to perform most of her normal duties autonomously, arguing that the Trust's acts or omissions breached the implied duty of trust and confidence and that her health was being harmed as a result.
The High Court decided that Ms Harrison had strong grounds to argue that the Trust's actions amounted to a breach of the implied duty of trust and confidence. Criticisms of her work had been made after the decision to suspend, and she was not presented with any evidence of her mismanagement. The balance of convenience was held to be in Ms Harrison's favour as there was no evidence that enabling her to undertake normal duties would harm the Trust, whereas the suspensions had affected her health and were to her professional detriment.
Take note: The decision in Harrison emphasises that suspension should only be considered as a last resort, and the decision to suspend an employee without sufficient supporting evidence is unlikely to be looked on favourably by the court. This is particularly so where the employee concerned is a professional, as evidenced by the High Court's 2018 decision in Jahangiri v St George's University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. Here an interim injunction was obtained to lift a doctor's suspension from work, and arguments about the doctor's reputation, the impact of her absence on patients, and the fact that generally doctors should not be excluded from working were particularly important.