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Home / News and Insights / Blogs / Employment Law / 167: Suspension did not amount to breach of implied term of trust and confidence

In Mayor and Burgesses of the London Borough of Lambeth v Agoreyo, the Court of Appeal ruled that a primary school had reasonable and proper cause to suspend a teacher accused of misconduct and that the suspension did not therefore amount to a repudiatory breach of contract.

Ms Agoreyo, an experienced teacher, was accused of using unreasonable force on three occasions against two children in her Year 1 class, both of whom had exhibited very challenging behaviour. On being informed that she was suspended pending an investigation into these allegations, Ms Agoreyo immediately resigned. She argued that suspension was not reasonable or necessary in order for the investigation to be carried out, and that it amounted to a repudiatory breach of the implied term of trust and confidence.

The County Court held that the school had reasonable and proper cause to suspend Ms Agoreyo as a result of the allegations against her and that there was therefore no breach of the implied term of trust and confidence. However, the High Court allowed her appeal, ruling that suspension was largely a knee-jerk reaction by the school and had been adopted as the default position. Since it was not necessary or reasonable, her suspension was a breach of the implied term of trust and confidence.

The Court of Appeal has now upheld Lambeth’s appeal, ruling that the High Court impermissibly substituted its own conclusions about the evidence presented to the County Court. The implied term of mutual trust and confidence means that an employer must not, without reasonable and proper cause, act in a manner likely to destroy or seriously damage the relationship of trust and confidence between employer and employee. The crucial question to consider was therefore whether there had been reasonable and proper cause for the suspension, not whether it was necessary. This would depend on the precise facts. Given the need to investigate several allegations of serious misconduct whilst safeguarding the welfare of young children, the Court of Appeal agreed with the County Court that Lambeth had reasonable and proper cause to suspend Ms Agoreyo.

The Acas Code of Practice on disciplinary procedures states that any suspension should be as brief as possible and that employers should clarify that it is not a disciplinary action. This case confirms that there will only be a breach of the implied term of trust and confidence if the employer does not have reasonable and proper cause for the suspension. It is therefore important that suspension is not simply a routine response to allegations of misconduct, and that the purpose of any suspension is made clear both to the employee and, if appropriate, to the wider workforce.

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