19 Mar 2018

The Supreme Court hands down its judgment in Reilly v Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council

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The Supreme Court has handed down its judgment in Reilly v Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council and held that it was fair for a school to dismiss a head teacher who failed to disclose her relationship with someone convicted of a serious criminal offence.

What was this case about?

Ms Reilly, a head teacher, had a close relationship (albeit not romantic relationship) with Mr Selwood who was convicted of making indecent images of children. Ms Reilly was aware of the conviction but did not disclose it to the governing body of the school.

The local authority learnt of the conviction and Ms Reilly's close relationship with the individual. Ms Reilly was suspended and invited to a disciplinary hearing. The disciplinary panel found that Ms Reilly's failure to disclose her relationship with a man with this conviction was a serious breach of a contractual term of her employment, which amounted to gross misconduct. As a result, Ms Reilly was summarily dismissed.

Ms Reilly brought a claim in the Employment Tribunal for unfair dismissal which was dismissed (aside from a procedural point), and her subsequent appeals to the Employment Appeal Tribunal and Court of Appeal were both dismissed.

What were the key findings in the judgment?

The Supreme Court has held that part of Ms Reilly's contractual obligations included assisting the school's governing body in discharging its duty to safeguard its pupils. As Ms Reilly's relationship with Mr Selwood caused a potential risk to Ms Reilly's pupils, and this was a risk that the governing body was required to assess, Ms Reilly's failure to disclose her relationship was a breach of her duty and merited her dismissal. Furthermore the Supreme Court held that the decision to dismiss was reasonable given Ms Reilly's continuing failure to acknowledge that she had been in breach of her duty.

The Judgment raised questions about whether there should be a challenge to the predominant test used in approaching the reasonableness of the employer's decision, however as this point was not challenged the law in this area remains unchanged.

Takeaway points for employers

It was helpful for the employer in this case that Ms Reilly's job description set out duties relating to assisting the governing body in terms of pupils' safety and that her contract included disciplinary provisions that a failure to report something, which it was her duty to report, might lead to disciplinary action. Employers should take note that if there are items that are particularly important to an employee's role it will help the employer if these are included in key documentation.

The Judgment also highlighted an important point for employers to remember, essentially that when looking if a dismissal was in the range of reasonable responses, a Tribunal is not substituting its own view but instead looking if it was in the range of reasonable responses for a reasonable employer in the circumstances.

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