As a result of a recent High Court appeal judgement – in the case of Agoreyo v London Borough of Lambeth – a spotlight has been cast on potential claims that may arise from decisions to suspend employees.
In the case, Mrs Agoreyo – a primary school teacher – was suspended from work following allegations that she’d used excessive force when handling two young children.
Mrs Agoreyo argued that the school’s action to suspend amounted to constructive dismissal, and she brought a claim for damages for breach of contract before the Central London County Court as a result.
Initially, her claim was dismissed. However, she was given leave to appeal to the High Court, where she successfully established that her suspension had been a fundamental breach of contract. In doing so, the court highlighted a number of facts that they felt were particularly pertinent to the claim. These were:
There’s no doubt that suspending employees who’re faced with allegations of potential gross misconduct is often a necessary step to protect your business, colleagues or customers.
However, if you are contemplating suspending an employee, it’s important to bear in mind the following:
1. Suspension isn’t a neutral act. It can affect the way colleagues and managers view an employee, and could impede their progress within your business.
2. Do you have enough evidence to warrant your decision to suspend an employee, or is further investigation needed to ensure the decision is fair? It’s important to ensure that the decision to suspend isn’t a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction.
3. Make sure you ask the employee for their initial explanation, and factor this into your decision. As an example, let’s say you’ve got an employee whom you’re planning on suspending on the grounds of theft.
During their initial explanation, it might come to light that they gave the allegedly stolen money to another employee to store away. In which case suspension may not be suitable until further enquiries are made with that member of staff.
4. Have you considered an alternative course of action to suspension? For example, if appropriate, you may be able to keep the employee in work but remove them from undertaking certain duties during the disciplinary process.
5. Make sure your decision is consistent with previous practice. Sticking with the theft scenario as an example, if you suspend one employee and not another for the same offence, you could open yourself up to discrimination claims and/or allegations of unfair treatment.
6. Don’t make it difficult for the employee to return to work. Discuss the issue confidentially, and don’t volunteer the information to anyone who doesn’t need to know it. Similar to if an employee was off due to a sensitive health matter, simply tell your workforce the suspended employee has ‘taken a period of leave.’
7. Keep the suspension under review and lift it as soon as it’s appropriate to do so. During the suspension period, keep the employee up-to-date with your progress so that they don’t think you’ve forgotten about them.
Always remember that when considering suspension, it’s important to balance the need to protect your business, customers and colleagues, with the impact the suspension could have on the employee in question.
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