Make Sure You Know the Facts Before Suspending an Employee
Suspending an employee is a significant step: make sure it is a necessary step and you know the facts before taking it.
In Agoreyo -v- London Borough of Lambeth  EWHC 2019 (QB), a teacher was suspended immediately after being involved in an incident that involved physical force towards 2 children. She also resigned on the same day. She claimed the school was in breach of contract and, in the proceedings that followed, the court considered whether her suspension was necessary.
The defendant argued that suspension was a "neutral act" which allowed the school to investigate the circumstances of the incident.
In disagreeing with this view, the judge relied on established cases relating to those employed as qualified professionals in a function which is as much a vocation as a job (like teaching). Suspension of such professionals changes the status quo from work to no work, and it inevitably casts a shadow over the employee's competence.
The judge concluded that the teacher's suspension "was adopted as the default position and [was] largely a knee-jerk reaction". On the facts, it was clear that before deciding to suspend the teacher:
(a) there was no evidence that the decision-maker had spoken to the teacher about her knowledge of what had occurred;
(b) there was no evidence of discussions about what support had been put in place for the teacher;
(c) the teacher was not asked for her response to the allegations; and
(d) no alternatives to suspension were considered before the decision to suspend was taken.
The decision emphasises that employers should consider all other options before suspending a member of staff.
Tips - What This Means In Practice For Employers
- Review all the facts thoroughly before deciding whether to suspend an employee who is subject to an investigation.
- If your normal business procedures tend towards automatic suspension of an employee when misconduct is alleged, consider reviewing your policies. An appropriate course of action will involve consideration of each allegation in the context of the specific facts and discussions with the employee in question.
- Carefully consider whether a suspension is necessary in the circumstances. Those circumstances will include a review of the following questions: is there a possibility of interference with or (undue) influence of the witnesses; and might the employee's continued presence restrict or impede a fair investigation being carried out? (This may depend on the size of the organisation and the work relationship of the investigating officer.)
All of the above should be considered before any suspension of an employee accused of misconduct.
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Please note that the information and opinions contained in this article are not intended to be comprehensive, nor to provide legal advice. No responsibility for its accuracy or correctness is assumed by Pearson Solicitors and Financial Advisers Ltd or any of its members or employees. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking, or refraining from taking, any action as a result of this article.
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