Advising a headteacher on whether action taken so far could give rise to a claim of procedural fairness

Nick Hobden was contacted by a headteacher of a specialist school when an employee (a speech and language therapist) did not return to work after the Christmas break. The employee gave notice and was signed off as sick by her GP for work-related stress for the duration of her notice period.

It quickly came to the headteacher’s attention that the employee had since contacted a colleague, inviting him to leave the client and join her new company. The employee had then contacted a nearby school to pitch her new company’s services; including services she had carried out on behalf of our school client, using the client’s materials. The headteacher suspended the employee and began investigating the matter.

After writing to the employee, the client received a robust response, alleging that instigating a disciplinary process whilst she was signed off as unfit for work was unfair. The procedural fairness of the process was also questioned.

Nick Hobden advised the client on whether the school’s action could give rise to a claim, and on steps that it could take to mitigate that risk. Nick Hobden also advised on practical steps that the client should take regarding the employee’s competing business, both against the employee and generally.

Acting on that advice, the client was able to ensure that its property was returned by the employee and that the employee did not bring any claims against our client. The remainder of the employee’s notice period expired without further incident.

Due to the advice given, the school was able to minimise litigation risk from the employee, protect its position in the marketplace, and avoid financial expenditure and loss of management time. It was also important that it was able to resolve the matter without damaging existing professional relationships with other local schools.

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