Employment Update: Injunctions

20 March 2007

The High Court may – in exceptional circumstances – grant an injunction to prevent an employer from suspending an employee from duty.

On 8 February 2007, in the case of Mezey v St Georges Mental Health NHS Trust the Court of Appeal rejected an employer’s appeal against a court order compelling it to lift a suspension imposed on an employee. The employer argued that the court had no power to intervene in the contractual relationship in such a way. It also alleged that there was such a breakdown of trust and confidence between the parties that it would be wrong to lift the suspension until all outstanding issues between them had been resolved. The employee, a consultant psychiatrist, argued that the matters in issue related to her treatment of a patient that had occurred two years earlier and she had already met the employer half way in agreeing not to undertake direct clinical work for the time being.

The Court of Appeal agreed with the trial judge that there was no reason why the court could not intervene to stay a suspension just as it can stay a dismissal – a dismissal may be slightly more fundamental than a suspension but both are not fully compensatable in damages. In this case the judge had been right to make the order.

Points to note –

  • The right to suspend is an important disciplinary tool. The possibility of suspension, and the circumstances in which it might be applied, should be expressly referred to in any contractual disciplinary procedure document.

  • Where an employee disputes a suspension, all that they will usually be able to do is ask that outstanding issues be dealt with as soon as possible. The order in this case was exceptional and was only made subject to an undertaking from the employee ‘not directly or personally to assess treat or care for patients’ while it remained in force.