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Suspending Employees During a Disciplinary Process
Crawford v Suffolk Mental Health Partnership NHS
Two nurses were employed by Suffolk Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust (SMH). They were both dismissed, amidst allegations of unauthorised restraint of an elderly dementia patient who had displayed aggressive behaviour.
The Court of Appeal held that the decision to dismiss was unfair on the basis of an unfair investigation into the alleged misconduct.
The Court further held that it was important that SMH acted transparently and not conceal wrongdoing. However, they also owed duties to their long serving staff, and defensive management responses which focused solely on their own interests were unfair and failed to balance the interests of the employees.
Particularly relevant was SMH’s decision to suspend the nurses pending completion of the investigation and also the decision to involve the police. Lord Justice Elias commented that, “I confess that I do find it little short of astonishing that it could ever have been thought appropriate to ever refer this matter to the police”.
The COA was concerned with the apparent ease with which NHS Trust’s management acted to suspend and ultimately dismiss two experienced nurses, both with clean disciplinary records.
What does this mean?
This case does not mean employers can not suspend employees in appropriate circumstances. However it does act as a warning that suspension should not be a knee-jerk reaction; and that if it is, it is likely to be in breach of the implied duty of mutual trust and confidence upon which the employee could resign and claim constructive dismissal.