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Case law: Suspension of employee pending investigation does not breach implied term of trust and confidence if there is reasonable and proper cause

Employers may suspend employees as a first response to a potential disciplinary matter without it being a breach of the implied term of trust and confidence between them, provided there is reasonable and proper cause, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

April 2019

This update was published in Legal Alert - April 2019

Legal Alert is a monthly checklist from Atom Content Marketing highlighting new and pending laws, regulations, codes of practice and rulings that could have an impact on your business.

A teacher was suspended following allegations she had used force on two 'challenging' children. She was not asked to respond to the allegations and alternatives to suspension were not considered. The employee had raised her concerns about her ability to deal with these children, but it had taken the school several weeks to suggest a plan for dealing with them, and the head teacher had previously judged one instance where the employee had used force in relation to them as reasonable.

The employee resigned, claiming constructive dismissal on grounds that her employer had breached the term of mutual trust and confidence implied into every employment contract by suspending her.

The employer argued that the suspension was a 'neutral action' and not a disciplinary sanction. Its purpose was to allow an investigation to be conducted fairly. But the employer did not explain why the investigation could not be conducted fairly without the suspension, or indicate that the suspension was necessary for the protection of the children in the school.

The Court of Appeal ruled that the test was whether the employer had reasonable and proper cause to suspend the employee - not whether it was necessary as the High Court had ruled. The appeal judges overturned the earlier decision, stating that the High Court's test of whether it was necessary to suspend was setting the bar too high.

The employee's claim that her suspension was a breach of the implied term of trust and confidence, and her dismissal unfair, therefore failed.

Operative date

  • Now

Recommendation

  • Employers may suspend employees as a first response to a potential disciplinary matter without it being a breach of the implied term of trust and confidence between them, provided there is reasonable and proper cause - the suspension does not have to be necessary.

Case ref: Agoreyo v London Borough of Lambeth [2019] EWCA Civ 322

Please note: An article published in the September 2017 edition of Legal Alert covered this case at an earlier stage in the legal process.

Disclaimer: This article from Atom Content Marketing is for general guidance only, for businesses in the United Kingdom governed by the laws of England. Atom Content Marketing, expert contributors and ICAEW (as distributor) disclaim all liability for any errors or omissions.

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