Fair dismissal by school where Headteacher failed to disclose relationship with sex offender

2016-08-08 chris posted:

Whatever their size, all businesses and organisations remain increasingly exposed to a complaint or tribunal claim when it comes to terminating an employee’s contract. It can often be difficult for employers to get a clear view of where they stand legally, and employees do not always require two years’ service in order to bring a claim for unfair dismissal or discrimination.

There are several potentially fair reasons for terminating a contract of employment, and sensible employers will check not only that the reason is fair but also that they follow a fair procedure.

One reason is obviously conduct, which was looked at closely in the case of A v B by the Court of Appeal recently. The Court of Appeal was asked to consider whether an Employment Tribunal should have found that the dismissal of a Headteacher who had failed to declare her association with a convicted sex offender was an unfair dismissal.

Facts

A was appointed a Headteacher of a primary school in 2009. She was close friends with a man and they bought a house together.

In February 2010, the man was convicted of making indecent images of children and was made subject to a Sexual Offences Prevention Order which prohibited him from having unsupervised access to children under 18.

A did not disclose any of this to the school governors, she having apparently sought advice from various sources as to whether or not it was a legal requirement for her to do so.

When the school governors discovered the situation, they undertook an investigation, resulting in A being charged with gross misconduct, and being dismissed.

Court of Appeal’s Decision

The Court of Appeal agreed with the Employment Tribunal that A's association with the convicted sex offender posed a risk to the schoolchildren and that A had a duty to inform the school of the matter so that steps could be taken to safeguard the children’s safety as necessary. Regardless of what advice she may have received, it was the Headteacher’s responsibility to inform her employer of the position to enable the school governors to decide whether action was needed. Therefore the dismissal was fair.

Comment

As demonstrated by this case, it is not always clear to an employee, or an employer, what constitutes reasonable action in the workplace.

As employment lawyers, we see many cases involving allegations of misconduct, discrimination, victimisation, bullying, privacy issues – the list is endless and there are often conflicting interests involved. We have the necessary experience to help you understand what is likely to constitute acceptable conduct and how to handle matters.

We will guide you through what can often be highly emotional events at work, so you can have confidence making decisions and avoid expensive and time consuming complaints.

If you are unsure about what action you need to take, just give us a call, no obligation. That’s what we’re here for.

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