This case study illustrates a highly sensitive situation for one of our college clients. These are not everyday occurrences for colleges, but when they arise our specialist team of employment lawyers is there to help every step of the way.
In this particular situation, we advised on a highly sensitive safeguarding issue for one of our college clients involving a staff member and a learner.
Our client, a further education college, received a complaint from a member of staff that he had reason to believe that one of his female colleagues was involved in an inappropriate relationship with a learner. The Principal and Head of HR did not have experience of handling this type of issue to draw on and so looked to us to support them closely while they dealt with the matter.
We were asked to get involved immediately following the receipt of the complaint by the male member of staff.
We know that effective safeguarding procedures are essential in the educational environment. Fundamentally, they contribute to creating a safe learning environment for learners and ensure that any children at risk are identified. An education establishment that doesn’t promote effective safeguarding will be rated as ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted. The College knew that it had to handle this investigation carefully and sensitively.
What needed to happen?
- The LADO (Local Authority Designated Officer) needed to be informed of the allegations.
- Early strategic advice was required for the College’s HR team regarding issues such as information gathering, suspension, staff and student welfare, confidentiality and data protection.
- Early consideration needed to be given as to whether the police should be informed and the female member of staff be suspended.
- Key considerations included how to communicate with the accused member of staff, the member of staff making the complaint, the learner and the learner’s family.
What did Menzies Law do?
Drawing on our wide experience of working with colleges, our specialist employment lawyers advised the College on its preliminary actions, which included contacting the LADO for advice. The female staff member was suspended from work and the College conducted some preliminary investigations.
Following advice from the LADO, the police were informed and conducted their own investigation. We continued to support the College by giving advice in relation to the suspended member of staff and the complainant (who was by now signed off work suffering from stress).
The police quickly determined that there would be no further police action and we then assisted the College with how to follow appropriate internal procedures in these particular circumstances. Whilst the police had determined there was insufficient evidence to justify a criminal prosecution, we advised the College that they needed to consider if, on the balance of probabilities, the female teacher had committed any acts of misconduct.
Using our collaborative approach, we recommended an external specialist safeguarding expert to conduct an investigation. Following receipt of the investigation report, we supported the Head of HR through a disciplinary process. It was found that there was no evidence to support any finding of misconduct by the female teacher and charges were dismissed and she returned to work.
We advised the College on how to support the teacher who had made the complaint to return to work. There was no suggestion of wrong-doing on the part of the complainant but he was clearly finding the thought of returning to work difficult and was refusing to have any direct contact with the College. Whilst the College wished to encourage him to return to work, the advice from occupational health was that he was unlikely to return to work. We advised the College on a dismissal strategy based on his long-term sickness absence, which included the use of a settlement agreement. This was achieved successfully.
Outcomes for our client
With our assistance, the College handled a highly sensitive issue impeccably. The accused teacher was able to return to work and resume her career.
Whilst the College had wished to support the complainant to return to work, this did not prove possible and we were able to assist them in achieving an outcome that did not expose the College to any employment law claims, but also at minimal cost to the College.
We supported the College’s HR team in all aspects of this long drawn-out process. The College had a designated lawyer within our specialist team who was able to guide them through all the various steps and was fully conversant with the facts of the case.
The Governing Body stated that they were fully confident that the College had followed all processes correctly.
For more information on how Menzies Law can help your business, please contact
Luke Menzies, Director
0117 325 0921