In the case of Agoreyo v London Borough of Lambeth, a local authority suspended a teacher after allegations of using force on children.
Suspension is an extremely common response to allegations which might amount to gross misconduct. If an employer has left an employee in situ after serious allegations, the employer might face difficulty in dismissing summarily if the employee has been left at work while the matter is investigated.
The High Court in this case has outlined that suspension must not be the default position of an employer. The teacher was a professional person and had the right to be asked her side of the story. In this case the employer did not ask for her response to the allegations, and the employer could not provide any evidence that an alternative was considered. In that respect, suspension was seen by the court as a knee jerk reaction.
The court held that the employee was entitled to resign and claim constructive unfair dismissal as the employer had breached the trust and confidence in this case.
The best advice for employers who wish to avoid this trap is simply to speak to an accused employee before suspending and ask for their account of any allegations. Don’t simply rush in and suspend, intending to ask questions later. The employer in this case would have avoided liability of it had done this, and also if it had at least asked if there was a way to avoid suspension. This question in itself raises the point “What is the purpose of the suspension?”. It might be to protect witnesses and therefore the integrity of an investigation, or it might be to protect the parties from allegations of tampering with evidence, or perhaps that the allegations are so serious that suspension is a sensible precaution. What it must not be is a thoughtless act undertaken simply because the employer can.
The full case can be read at the following link: http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/QB/2017/2019.html