Last year, we reported on the case of London Borough of Lambeth v Agoreyo, which looked at whether employers can safely suspend their employees, pending a disciplinary investigation. This case was recently re-considered by the Court of Appeal, with interesting results.
Ms Agoreyo, a primary school teacher, was suspended from work after she was accused of being too rough in the way in which she dealt with a couple of her pupils. Ms Agoreyo resigned in response to her suspension; she claimed it was a ‘knee-jerk reaction’, implemented without speaking to her or conducting even a preliminary investigation. As a result, she argued that the council had broken her contract of employment.
What did the courts say?
Previous case law has suggested that employers should tread carefully when suspending employees for disciplinary reasons. As a result, the High Court’s decision to uphold Ms Agoreyo’s breach of contract claim was, in some respects, no surprise. However, when the Court of Appeal recently reviewed the decision, they reached a different conclusion.
In the High Court, considerable attention was paid to the question of whether a disciplinary suspension is a ‘neutral act’. Interestingly, the leading Court of Appeal judge concluded that a detailed consideration of this particular issue was unlikely to be helpful. Instead, the question of fact that a court had to ask itself was whether it was ‘reasonable and proper’ to suspend the employee, given the circumstances of the case. The appeal judge rightly pointed out that each case would very much turn on its own facts.
In this case, the Court of Appeal was satisfied that the County Court had fairly concluded that the decision to suspend Ms Agoreyo was reasonable and proper. As a result, it wasn’t for the High Court (or any other court) to interfere with this decision.
Good news or bad news?
Given the outcome of this case, it’s clear that whether you can suspend an employee pending a disciplinary hearing will very much depend on the facts of each case. However, it also makes clear that if the decision to suspend is ‘reasonable and proper’, then the risks associated with that suspension should be manageable.
If you are dealing with a disciplinary case and are wondering whether you are in a position to suspend, please get in touch. We can talk you through the options and help you to make the right decision.