Q. When a teacher is suspended during an investigation, is it reasonable to specify not only that he should not enter the school but also that he should have no contact with pupils? In a small town, this is tantamount to house arrest. Does the employer have the legal power to do this?
A. A requirement such as this is not uncommon when an investigation involves relationships with pupils and the reason for it is obvious. The investigation should not be frustrated by any contacts which might corrupt or conceal evidence and, with pupils especially, it is right to take steps to ensure that witnesses are not subjected to unfair influence.
I do not believe that this is tantamount to house arrest, even in a small town. The intention should be clear: contact means spoken or written communication and it is that contact which is to be avoided. It is possible to walk along a street and even to return a polite and unsolicited greeting without establishing meaningful contact.
The employer, in issuing this instruction, is not relying on any special legal power, but upon the normal employer-employee contractual relationship. The directions which you quote would not, I think, be deemed unreasonable where a serious allegation was under investigation.
Were the suspended teacher to disobey the directions, it could be treated as a disciplinary offence and the employer might be able to obtain an injunction to stop it. The onus would then be on the employee to show that the employer was acting unreasonably.
* The TES Management Guide for Heads and Senior Staff, based on Archimedes' Helpline column, has now been published by Butterworth-Heinemann at Pounds 14.99, but is available to readers for Pounds 10.99. Tel: 0345 660 890