When faced with an employee who it is alleged has committed an act of gross misconduct, it's understandable that an employer might want to suspend the employee whilst an investigation and/or disciplinary process takes place.
But, much as we might state in a letter of suspension that suspension is standard in matters of this nature or that suspension does not indicate guilt or even that suspension is not in itself a disciplinary sanction, a recent High Court judgement means we need to think carefully about suspending an employee.
In Agoreyo v London Borough of Lambeth the High Court stated that suspension of an employee, even in the face of potentially serious allegations, could amount to a breach of the employment contract.
In this case, the Claimant was a teacher who had been suspended due to allegations about the force she used with two children within the school. Prior to her suspension no discussion had taken place with her and there was no evidence of any consideration being given by the employer to any alternative to immediate suspension. The Claimant resigned the same day she was told about the suspension. The claim in question was for damages for breach of contract, but the principle that arises is of general application.
The Court noted that suspension of an employee is not by itself a “neutral act”, particularly in the context of a qualified professional, such as a teacher. In this case there was specific guidance to be followed in relation to suspension and investigations. The Court said that a knee jerk reaction in deciding to suspend in these cases should be avoided. Suspension should not be the default position. In this case the Court was satisfied that suspension was a knee jerk reaction, and amounted to a fundamental breach of contract.
Ensuring that a fair process is followed in these types of cases is key and the judgment is a timely reminder that proper consideration needs to be given to ensuring the individual’s position is considered and protected, even during the investigation stages.
No two disciplinary situations are ever the same and we strongly advise clients to talk to us about how best to handle each situation as it arises. For more information, please get in touch.