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October 31, 2017

Suspension of an Employee Was a Fundamental Breach of Contract

In Agoreyo v London Borough of Lambeth [2017] EWHC 2019 (QB), the High Court considered whether the suspension of an employee amounted to a fundamental breach of contract on the part of her employer.

A primary school suspended a teacher, Ms Agoreyo, after allegations arose that she had used unreasonable force towards two children known to have behavioural issues. The suspension letter stated that the reason for the suspension was “to allow the investigation to be conducted fairly”. Ms Agoreyo had previously made numerous requests to the head teacher for additional support to work with these children, but the resulting support measures had not yet been fully implemented. Ms Agoreyo resigned and claimed that the suspension amounted to a fundamental breach of her fixed term employment contract.

The High Court held that the suspension had not been reasonable or necessary. An employer must ensure that it has reasonable and proper cause for suspension, consider whether there are any alternatives to suspension and consult the employee beforehand. The school had failed to meet these requirements; the suspension had been a “knee jerk” reaction and adopted as a “default” position. As such, Ms Agoreyo’s suspension amounted to a fundamental breach of contract. Furthermore, the fact that the suspension took place a few days after the support measures had been introduced (and before they were fully implemented) constituted a further fundamental breach.

This case is a reminder that suspension is not a neutral act, particularly in relation to qualified professionals, as it may bring into question their competence and lead to reputational damage.

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