For some organisations, writing letters, warnings and suspension notices for employees’ misconduct is a daily occurrence. Employees often come to the conclusion that it is a personal act of malice or contempt, and in some cases, it is.
In Mezey, 2007, the High Court in London held that suspension of employment is not a neutral act “at least in relation to the employment of a qualified professional in a function which is as much a vocation as a job” because “it inevitably casts a shadow over the employees’ competence“.
Suspension undoubtedly results in many adverse effects, and how an employer initiates employee suspension is almost as relevant as the decision behind initiating one in the first place. The High Court in Agoreyo v London Borough of Lambeth  EWHC 2019 (QB) issued confirmation that, unless handled delicately, suspensions can result in implied predetermined guilt that amounts to repudiatory contract breaches, which provide grounds for constructive dismissal claims.
Ms. Agoreyo, A Lambeth school teacher, managed classes that included two specific children with extremely challenging behaviours. The law, in certain circumstances, allows teachers to use reasonable force in specific situations; however, an allegation was lodged against Ms. Agoreyo that on three separate occasions over a fortnight, Agoreyo had applied reasonable force beyond the scope of what was considered acceptable and as a result, was immediately suspended. Ms. Agoreyo then immediately resigned from the position and alleged that Lambeth’s conduct subsequently resulted in her teaching position being impossible to manage or maintain.
In most situations, one would assume that suspending a teacher as a result of alleged excessive force against a child is an obvious reaction, and failure to issue suspension results in future vilification from both parents and media. Lambeth’s handling of the issue ultimately resulted in numerous problems, which led the High Court to uphold the breach of contract claims for Ms. Agoreyo.
Problems Involved with the Teacher Suspension:
- Numerous relevant statements and codes from the school confirming teaching practices that suspension only occurs as a matter of last resort. This statement led to suggestions to colleagues of Agoreyo without foundation that the issue was to the extent a matter of last resort and measures enacted were appropriate.
- Failure to undertake investigation of events and actions prior to the issued suspension. The employer should, in the very least, have investigated the matter enough to form an insight into the situation. Agoreyo was not even spoken to by the school in advance of her suspension.
- The only witness involved was an unqualified receptionist, who was perhaps not the best choice of witness to make assessments on whether degree of forced used by Agoreyo was in fact unreasonable.
- Senior teachers at the school were previously aware of two separate incidents of excessive force yet failed to make any formal report in relation to the events.
- The reason provided for the actual suspension was unclear. In a confirmation letter, the school claimed to allow a fair investigation. Agoreyo was suspended; however, there was no justification provided that showed suspension was required, either for undertaking an investigation or for the safety of the children.
- Although other experienced teachers were able to manage the two challenging children, the school was fully aware that Agoreyo struggled with the issue. The school promised assistance to Agoreyo with the matter that was never delivered.