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.
In this case a teacher was suspended due to concerns about using force in the classroom. The letter advising the claimant of her suspension 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.”
The High Court held that the suspension was unfair on its facts because (a) it was not concluded that it had been reasonable and necessary; (b) there hadn’t been sufficient investigation before suspending the employee; (c) the employee had not been given a chance to respond to the allegations; (d) no consideration had been given to alternatives to suspension; (d) the letter had said that “the purpose of the suspension is to allow the investigation to be conducted fairly” which cast doubt on the assertion by the employer that the suspension had been implemented because it was necessary to protect the children.
Therefore, the High Court found that the employee’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 common for employers to suspend employees while investigating allegations of misconduct, the key issue in this case was whether it was reasonable in the circumstances to do so. The High Court had made clear that suspending an employee without due consideration of alternative measures, and without inviting the employee to present a fully considered response to the allegations before taking any action can amount to a breach of contract.