When may an employer suspend an employee without breaching the implied term of trust and confidence?
When it has reasonable and proper cause for doing so, held the Court of Appeal in London Borough of Lambeth v Agoreyo.
A primary school suspended a teacher after two teaching assistants accused her of using excessive force against two young pupils with special educational needs. She claimed it was a 'kneejerk' suspension and thus a breach of the implied term of trust and confidence. She resigned and brought a claim.
The County Court held that the school had reasonable and proper cause for suspending her, and dismissed her claim. On appeal, the High Court held that it had not been necessary to suspend her, and therefore the suspension was a breach of trust and confidence. She appealed to the Court of Appeal.
The Court of Appeal agreed with the County Court and held there was no breach of trust and confidence. The correct legal test was whether the Head Teacher had reasonable and proper cause to suspend, and the County Court judge was entitled to hold that it did - a decision which could not be overturned on appeal. The High Court was wrong, it said, to seemingly instead adopt a test of whether it was necessary to suspend - that was setting the bar too high.
Accordingly the teacher's claim that her suspension was a breach of contract failed.
Suspension should always be a last resort as it is not a neutral act. Where an employer is considering suspension in order to investigate a disciplinary there should be a clear consideration as to whether the suspension is reasonably required, and whether it can be justified. Where an employer does suspend an employee, there should be a clear note made of the decision, including the reasons for the suspension. Provided there are good reasons to suspend and a note is kept (and the employee is paid during any suspension) the risks of such an act can be reduced.
Should you find yourself in this situation you have access to the RMIF legal helpline for telephone advice.
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