In Crawford and Another v Suffolk Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust, following a complaint about the handling of a patient, two nurses were suspended and the police were notified of potential criminal offences.
An investigation led to disciplinary proceedings, which eventually led to their dismissal for gross misconduct after a period of six months. The Court of Appeal upheld their claims of unfair dismissal.
The main part of the decision in this case is a useful reminder of the importance of a thorough and fair investigation, disciplinary process and appeal hearing, particularly where dismissal may affect an employee’s future professional career. However, it is perhaps more noteworthy for a ‘footnote’ given by the Court of Appeal on the subject of suspension. The Court cautioned against automatically suspending employees as soon as a complaint has been made, without considering the likelihood of the complaint being established or the effect on the employee. Even where there is evidence supporting an investigation, suspension will not necessarily be automatically justified. If it is a ‘knee jerk reaction’ it could also be a breach of the duty of trust and confidence. The Court stressed that referring an issue to the police should only be done with the most careful consideration and a genuine and reasonable belief that the case, if established, might justify the conduct being described as ‘criminal’. Here, although the correct procedures had not been followed to restrain the patient, the Court of Appeal was highly critical of the decision to involve the police.