Teacher’s suspension did not breach implied term of trust and confidence
A school did not breach the implied term of trust and confidence when it suspended a teacher pending investigation of allegations that she had used unreasonable force against two children.
In London Borough of Lambeth v Agoreyo, Ms Agoreyo began working at a primary school teaching a class of five and six year olds, two of whom exhibited extremely challenging behaviour. Allegations were made that she had used unreasonable force towards these two children on three occasions between 9 November and 5 December 2012. She was accused of dragging one of the children out of the classroom, dragging the other child very aggressively along a corridor and on another occasion carrying that child out of the classroom.
On 14 December the head suspended her pending an investigation into the allegations. Ms Agoreyo claimed that suspension was a breach of the implied term of trust and confidence as it was not reasonable or necessary in order to investigate the allegations. She resigned and claimed constructive dismissal.
The County Court found that the school was “bound” to suspend her after receiving reports of the allegations against her. It had an overriding duty to protect the children pending a full investigation. The school had reasonable and proper cause to suspend her and so the suspension did not breach the implied term of trust and confidence.
Ms Agoreyo’s appeal to the High Court was successful. It considered that the school had adopted suspension as the default position and it was “largely a knee-jerk reaction”. In the circumstances, it had breached the implied term of trust and confidence by suspending her.
The school appealed to the Court of Appeal which reinstated the County Court’s decision, ruling that the school had been entitled to act as it did. It was important not to over-complicate cases like this, where it was obvious that the allegations of misconduct were serious and needed to be investigated. Suspension does not have to be necessary. The key question was whether the school had responded to an allegation of possible misconduct in a reasonable and proper manner. Given the context was one in which the school had to safeguard the interests of very young children, the County Court judge had been entitled to find that it had. The school had not therefore breached the implied term of trust and confidence.
Employers can suspend an employee in order to investigate serious allegations. However, suspension should be a considered decision, not a knee-jerk reaction. The legal test is whether the employer had reasonable and proper cause for suspending the employee. In this case, the school’s safeguarding obligations meant that it did.
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