In Harrison v. Barking, Havering & Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust, a suspended employee successfully obtained an injunction against her employer allowing her to resume most of her duties.
Ms Harrison is employed as the Deputy Head of Legal Services for the Trust. She was suspended following concerns about her handling of a clinical negligence case, despite not previously having received any criticism. She was not provided with details of the allegations.
Ms Harrison was subsequently signed off with stress, at which point her suspension was lifted and she was treated as being on sick leave. The Trust asked Ms Harrison to return to work on restricted duties, comprising largely administrative work and legal teaching, but with no casework. She refused on the basis that this was a demotion and contrary to medical advice (to the effect that a return to full duties would improve her health). As a result, Ms Harrison was suspended again for refusing to obey an instruction.
Ms Harrison sought an injunction permitting her to perform the majority of her duties autonomously while the investigation continued.
The High Court granted the injunction, holding that:
- Ms Harrison had strong grounds that the Trust’s actions amounted to a breach of the implied duty of trust and confidence. In particular, she had an arguable case that there was no reasonable and proper cause for suspending her from most of her normal duties;
- criticisms of Ms Harrison’s work, which purported to justify the restrictions on her duties, had only been made after the decision to suspend;
- damages were not an adequate remedy;
- the balance of convenience was in Ms Harrison’s favour. There was no evidence that enabling her to undertake the majority of her normal duties would harm the Trust. Conversely, the suspensions had affected her health and were to her detriment professionally.
Successful injunction applications are rare in employment cases. Nonetheless, this case underlines the importance of ensuring that suspension is considered on a case-by-case basis, with reference to all the evidence available. Critically, employers must be satisfied – and be able to demonstrate – that there are reasonable grounds for the suspension and that it is a proportionate step in all the circumstances.