March 29, 2019
A lot of employers will automatically suspend an employee when faced with a serious disciplinary allegation, however, a recent Court of Appeal judgment has provided guidance on the circumstances when suspending an employee may amount to a breach of contract.
In London Borough of Lambeth v Agoreyo, Ms Agoreyo, a primary school teacher, was suspended following an allegation she had used excessive force against two pupils. Ms Agoreyo resigned claiming that her suspension was a kneejerk reaction and therefore a breach of the implied term of trust and confidence.
The Court of Appeal (overturning the previous decision of the High Court, which in turn had overturned the original decision of the County Court) found that suspending Ms Agoreyo was reasonable and therefore her claim failed, but confirmed that suspension could amount to a breach of the implied term of trust and confidence depending on the specific facts of the case and whether in the circumstances suspension was reasonable.
The decision also restored the test when deciding whether to suspend back to whether an employer has “reasonable and proper cause” to suspend. The decision is a reminder to employers to give proper consideration to the issue of whether to suspend an employee, and should not be used automatically. Suspension will often be appropriate where the allegation amounts to serious misconduct, or where by not suspending an employee there is a risk that any investigation may be prejudiced, but as explained above, this should be considered on a case by case basis. Any period of suspension should be for as short a time as possible. Unless there is a contractual right to suspend without pay, any period of suspension should be with full pay.