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Employment Law Case Update: Agoreyo v London Borough of Lambeth

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A topic that has featured in the news lately is whether suspension amounts to a breach of trust and confidence. This was considered by the High Court in the case of Agoreyo v London Borough of Lambeth where the claimant - a teacher - was suspended as result of the force she used on two children.

Ms Agoreyo, a primary school teacher with 15 years’ experience, was employed by the London Borough of Lambeth. She taught a class of 29 students aged between five and six years old. Two of her pupils had serious behavioural problems and it was alleged that she had used unreasonable force towards them including dragging a child out of the classroom and along the corridor.

The school’s Executive Head suspended Ms Agoreyo after the allegations of unreasonable force used on the children. She then drafted her resignation letter while on the school premises and submitted it on the day of the suspension.

London Borough of Lambeth suspension letter to Ms Agoreyo stated the following reason for the suspension: “The suspension is a neutral action and is not a disciplinary sanction. The purpose of the suspension is to allow the investigation to be conducted in full.” The matter was taken to the police who decided that there was no basis for criminal proceedings and the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) did not bar Ms Agoreyo from teaching.

In response, she challenged the lawfulness of her suspension as being a repudiatory breach of the implied duty of trust and confidence. She agreed that the allegations against her should be investigated, but that the suspension was not reasonable or necessary for the investigation to take place.

In the first instance, the County Court found in favor of the London Borough of Lambeth who was “bound” to suspend the claimant. The Ms Agoreyo appealed to the High Court where it was held that the County Court’s use of the word “bound” indicated that the Court considered there was no alternative to suspension. The Judge further criticised the procedure followed by London Borough of Lambeth and stated that there was no evidence of any attempt to ascertain Ms Agoreyo’s version of events; the suspension letter did not explain why an investigation could not be conducted without the need for suspension.

The judge concluded that suspension was adopted as the “default position” and was “largely a knee-jerk reaction” and held that Ms Agoreyo’s suspension was sufficient to breach the implied term of trust and confidence.

This case reinforces the great care employers must take when considering the suspension of an employee following an alleged misconduct. Suspension should not be the default position or a “knee-jerk reaction”; therefore employers must carefully consider the true purpose of a suspension and explore any suitable alternatives.

This article is from our weekly Employment Law Newsletter published on 14/09/2017.  If you would like to receive this newsletter directly and be kept up to date with recent cases and Employment Law news, email events@warnergoodman.co.uk.

ENDS

This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.