Why suspend an employee?
As an employer, you may decide to suspend an employee in order to minimise the risk to your business during a disciplinary investigation. Suspension will normally be on full pay, although an employee can be suspended without pay as long as this is stated in their employment contract, and you, as the employer, are seen to be acting reasonably and not using it as punishment.
Why it can’t be just a safe default
Suspension of an employee is traditionally viewed as a ‘neutral act’, which takes place whilst an investigation into allegations against said employee is carried out.
In the recent case of Agoreyo v London Borough of Lambeth, the High Court overturned the original decision of the County Court following an appeal by Ms Agoreyo, finding that the employer had breached the term of trust and confidence implied in every employee’s contract of employment.
Ms Agoreyo began working as a teacher for a London primary school in 2012, being placed in a class which included two pupils with ‘behavioural, emotional and social difficulties. Although Ms Agoreyo had 15 years’ experience in her field, including teaching children with special educational needs, she didn’t have the experience or training to deal with children suffering with behavioural problems. She had also not been informed of these two pupils prior to accepting the offer of employment. Having brought the issues to the attention of the school, she was informed the school was aware the pupils in question were ‘difficult to control’ and she was assured of being provided with extra support.
Ms Agoreyo didn’t receive this support in sufficient time to avoid 3 separate incidents involving the said pupils where she considered it necessary to use a degree of force to restrain the children. This resulted in her immediate suspension, to which her response was to resign later the same day, and subsequently brought a claim for breach of contract in the County Court. This claim was dismissed on the grounds that the school was ‘entitled and indeed bound to suspend’ the teacher as it had a duty to protect the children pending a full investigation, and that Ms Agoreyo’s motive for resigning was ‘to jump before she was pushed’.
Following the appeal, the High Court determined that the school had not acted to protect the pupils, but that suspension had been used by the school as a ‘default position’ and was a knee-jerk reaction to the allegations against Ms Agoreyo.
When suspending an employee, employers must:
- Act reasonably
- Have reasonable grounds for the suspension
- Ensure the length of the suspension is reasonable
What are the alternatives to suspension?
- A period of leave for the accused employee
- Deploying the accused employee to another department
Employers need to bear in mind the consequences of their actions when facing allegations of misconduct against its’ employees. In all circumstances, the employer needs to avoid opening themselves up to an Employment Tribunal Claim.