Suspension is not a neutral act
23 August 2017
With thanks to Daniel Barnett's Employment Law Bulletin for its coverage of this case.
Did suspension of a teacher amount to a breach of the implied term of mutual trust and confidence?
Yes, held the High Court in Agoreyo v London Borough of Lambeth. In this case, a teacher was suspended because of the force she used with two children. She had not been asked for her response to the allegations and there was no evidence of consideration given to any alternative to suspension. She resigned the same day.
Foskett J held, following Mezey and Gogay, that suspension was not a neutral act, at least in the context of a qualified professional in a vocation, such as a teacher. Taking into account the statutory guidance for local authorities, it was noted that a knee-jerk reaction must be avoided and that suspension must not be the default position. The reason given for the suspension was not the protection of children, but to "allow the investigation to be conducted fairly".
The court concluded that suspension was adopted as the default position, was a knee-jerk reaction, and amounted to a repudiatory breach of contract. This was not undermined by a resignation in friendly terms.
NB the court did not have before it the question of whether this case was an attempt to circumvent the statutory qualifying period for unfair dismissal claims and fell within the 'Johnson exclusion zone'.