Relationships between School Employees and those convicted of a serious offence

Highly Relevant to those who lead or work within Schools

This case is a timely reminder to all who work within Schools, and any other organisations that work with vulnerable groups, that full disclosure of any relationship with a person who may present a risk to vulnerable individuals must be made to the employer.

The Claimant was employed as head teacher of a primary school; it transpired that she had a link with a man who had been convicted of an offence involving indecent images of children.

Whilst Ms Reilly did not have a romantic link with the person in question, Mr Selwood, she co-owned an investment property with him and had witnessed his arrest in 2009 on suspicion of having downloaded images of children. This was a month after she had applied for employment at the School.

Ms Reilly made no disclosure to her employer about the arrest or her relationship with Mr Selwood. At first she considered him innocent but as time went by it became less and less reasonable for her to maintain that belief. Eventually Mr Selwood was convicted and yet still Ms Reilly made no disclosure of this.

The governors of the School learnt of these matters in 2010 and suspended Ms Reilly; she was later dismissed for her failure to disclose the relationship. Ms Reilly never conceded fault in this respect, which was relied upon by her employer as an aggravating factor justifying summary dismissal for gross misconduct.

Ms Reilly won her unfair dismissal claim on procedural grounds (the appeal process was defective), but the Tribunal considered fair dismissal a 90% certainty had a proper appeal process been followed, and reduced compensation accordingly. This is known as a ‘Polkey’ reduction and it is applied in a great many cases, often producing a Pyrrhic victory for claimants.

Ms Reilly pursued a series of appeals, culminating in an appearance in the Supreme Court (i.e. the ultimate court of appeal for domestic law issues, and in due course following Brexit for all matters).

Those who follow Supreme Court decisions will know that – despite what some newspapers would have you believe – when it comes to the independence, sophistication and insight to be found in the Judges of our ultimate appeal court, we in the UK can – and should – be very proud. Needless to say the appeal was dismissed.

The Supreme Court upheld the Tribunal’s (and the EAT’s and the Court of Appeal’s) finding that the failure to disclose the relationship, and the ongoing refusal to accept culpability for this, fully justified dismissal despite Ms Reilly’s otherwise exemplary employment record and the fact that she had committed no blameworthy act herself (the sin being one of omission).

Please feel free to refer to this link and share it wherever appropriate. There are very good reasons for the requirements of disclosure in these circumstances and our children need the best protection we can give them from predatory individuals.