Agoreyo v London Borough of Lambeth [2019] EWCA Civ 322

London Borough of Lambeth

Introduction

While the following case resides in the United Kingdom,  it does provide an example as to why suspensions upon a pending investigation may be absolutely necessary. For most circumstances, suspensions allow the natural process for the investigation to occur. Furthermore,  it allows for the protection of all parties involved. Especially considering the extent that serious misconduct can affect employees and their performance.

Facts

Ms. Agoreyo was a primary school teacher from Glenbrook Primary School near London. She had 15 years of experience teaching in the United Kingdom and abroad. She also had experience working with special needs children. There were 3 incidents involving two children who were 5 and 6 years old respectively. The children had special needs and had difficulty learning and would often become emotional and difficult to control.

Unfortunately, Ms. Agoreyo was found using physical force on the children in order to try to ‘get them to behave’. One incident involved Ms. Agoreyo dragging one of the children on the floor in the presence of another staff member while the child was screaming out “Help me”.  No action was taken against Ms. Agoreyo at the time. The second incident involved Ms. Agoreyo dragging another child “very aggressively” down a corridor while shouting at him. This incident was reported to management. The final incident involved the teacher threatening to carry the child out of a classroom when they refused to move. Eventually, Ms Agoreyo did pick up the child who was kicking and screaming when they were removed from the classroom. This incident was considered serious misconduct and was unacceptable by the school.

Following the last incident considerations were put in place to help Ms  Agoreyo with the children. Including hiring an additional teacher’s assistant and separating the children so that they would not influence each other. Despite being told these considerations were to be put in place Ms Agoreyo was suspended with pay 5 days afterwards. There was an issue as to whether Ms. Agoreyo was initially told verbally of her suspension or verbally and via written communication. The suspension was done as a precautionary measure while there was a formal investigation regarding the children and the aforementioned incidents. Ms. Agoreyo was directed that the suspension was not a disciplinary sanction but a necessary action in order to follow procedural fairness. Furthermore, there was consideration for the safety of the children.

Ms. Agoreyo had handed in her resignation later that day before commencing a claim against the school for damages for breach of her contract of employment.

Considerations

The court had to consider whether there was a breach of implied terms of trust and confidence by the school. Whether it was reasonable and proper for the school to suspend Ms. Agoreyo employment considering the facts. And finally, if there was proper cause that the suspension would breach the implied terms of trust and confidence in her employment contract.

It was found that Ms. Agoreyo was inexplicably unable to show that there was any breach of implied terms in her contract. Ms. Agoreyo herself voiced that the allegations were serious and would naturally require investigation due to the inappropriateness of her alleged actions. However, Ms. Agoreyo did argue that there should have been a formal investigation done first before suspending her with full pay.

The Judge found that there was absolutely a “reasonable and proper cause” to suspend Ms. Agoreyo. The school has an “overriding duty” to protect the children therefore a full investigation of the allegations was necessary. It would be redundant to have the teacher who is allegedly a threat to children to still teach them.

It was decided that the act of suspending Ms. Agoreyo was an act from the school in order to preserve the employment relationship. Rather than to act as a disciplinary measure. Which would have insinuated that the school had already assumed that Ms. Agoreyo had committed the allegations prior to commencing the investigation. Moreover, it does not affect if there was a breach of implied terms.

Outcome

The Court found that the school had a reasonable and proper course to suspend Ms. Agoreyo.  And the act of suspension did not break the implied terms of her employment contract.

Conclusion

This case demonstrates how a suspension can be necessary for the sake of safety,  as well as conducting a fair and informal investigation. Safety can be considered for the alleged party,  as well as the aggrieved. In the circumstance above the aggrieved party would have been children and their parents who otherwise would not have the power to remove Ms Agoreyo. Therefore her suspension was a necessary act.

 Furthermore, it is important for employees to understand that a suspension or investigation does not automatically mean that the company assumes that the employee is guilty of their allegations. As explained, the act of suspension for most circumstances should not be considered disciplinary action. But an act in order to preserve the relationship between employee and employer. It may also be in the employee’s best interest. As an investigation will most likely result in stress that may inadvertently affect their performance and confidence at work. And the time away will help give the employee time to prepare their response and follow steps after the investigation has begun.