In the recent case of Agoreyo v London Borough of Lambeth, the High Court considered whether it was reasonable to suspend a teacher, to allow for a fair misconduct investigation to take place or if this constituted a repudiatory breach of the implied term of trust and confidence, therefore allowing the teacher to resign and claim constructive dismissal.
Ms Agoreyo was a teacher with 15 years’ experience and in 2012 began work on a 9 month fixed term contract at Glenbrook Primary School. She was suspended just five weeks later due to the alleged forced she had used while disciplining two children. The letter to Ms Agoreyo stated that the suspension was a “neutral act” and was not a “disciplinary sanction”, before clarifying that the purpose of the suspension was to allow “the investigation to be conducted fairly.”
Ms Agoreyo resigned the same day in response to this decision and brought a claim to the county court for breach of contract, which was dismissed. The court held that the school was entitled to suspend Ms Agoreyo after receiving reports of the allegations from colleagues.
Ms Agoreyo appealed this decision to the High Court.
The High Court allowed the appeal and held that a suspension should not be considered “a routine response to the need for an investigation” and while the circumstances of every case will differ it is important for employers to avoid a “knee jerk” reaction with suspension as the default position before considering alternatives. In addition, the court found that the school should have invited Ms Agoreyo to present a fully considered response to the allegations before taking any action.
Therefore, the High Court found that Ms Agoreyo’s resignation amounted to a constructive dismissal as there had been a repudiatory breach of contract which damaged the relationship of trust and confidence between the employer and employee.
While it is very common for employers to suspend employees while investigating allegations of misconduct, the key issue here was whether it was reasonable in the circumstances to do so and the High Court had made clear that suspending an employee without due consideration of alternative measures can amount to a breach of contract.