In the recent Court of Appeal case of London Borough of Lambeth v Agoreyo, the Court had to consider whether a school had breached the implied term of trust and confidence by suspending a teacher.
London Borough of Lambeth v Agoreyo
Ms Agoreyo, a primary school teacher, was suspended following accusations from two teaching assistants who alleged that she used excessive force with two pupils with special educational needs. The accusations included dragging a pupil across the floor and down a corridor, whilst shouting at them, and picking up a child when they wouldn’t leave the classroom.
When Ms Agoreyo was suspended by the school (pending an investigation), she resigned immediately, bringing a claim in the County Court for breach of the contract of employment. She claimed that her suspension had been a knee-jerk reaction which breached the implied term of trust and confidence between her and the school.
The school argued that the decision to suspend was taken so that the allegations could be fully investigated and because they had a duty to protect their pupils.
She was unsuccessful in the County Court but appealed to the High Court which found in her favour. The Local Authority (who was the employer) then appealed to the Court of Appeal.
Court of Appeal Proceedings
The Court of Appeal agreed with the initial County Court ruling and found that the school had not breached the implied term of trust and confidence by suspending Ms Agoreyo. As a result, Ms Agoreyo’s claim failed.
The High Court concentrated on whether the suspension had been “necessary” in the circumstances and concluded that it had not been. However, the Court of Appeal confirmed that this was not the correct test to apply. What should be examined is whether there is “reasonable and proper cause” to suspend.
This is a lower requirement to place on schools than that which the High Court tried to apply. Rather than providing clarity, however, it is possible that this most recent decision in a line of cases dealing with suspension could cause further confusion for head teachers and those responsible for HR in schools. There is little guidance as to what would amount to reasonable and proper cause, so schools will still need to take each incident on a case by case basis and make an appropriate judgment call. This is likely to include assessing the following:
- The seriousness of the allegations;
- The impact that the employee’s continued presence may have on an investigation; and
- The risk of harm to students and other staff.
If you are unsure about whether to suspend or not we would suggest seeking legal advice before taking any action.