27 Mar 2018

Guilt by association?

To what extent must an employee disclose information to their employer about a third party with whom they are associated?  

This question arose in Reilly -v- Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council (2018).  In this case the Claimant, the head teacher at a primary school, had a relationship with a convicted sex offender, who had been sentenced for viewing child pornography.  She had not informed the school governors of this and when they discovered the fact, they brought disciplinary proceedings.

Following the disciplinary hearing, Ms Reilly was dismissed for gross misconduct, by failing to notify the governors of her association with the offender.  Although the dismissal was not handled well by the employer, nonetheless, as she was held 100% contributorily liable for her dismissal, the tribunal awarded her no compensation.  The case found its way ultimately to the Court of Appeal, where judgement has now been given. 

The view was taken that in her capacity, the Claimant had a duty to disclose any matters that might be relevant to children and their safeguarding, and given that she stayed with the offender on a number of occasions, there was a risk, in the view of the court, that he might directly or indirectly have access to children through, for example, visiting the school or finding information on them via documents that Ms Reilly might have with her. 

The fact that the Claimant did not think it necessary then, or even now, to notify the governors of the fact, made her judgement flawed and the dismissal was held to be fair. Incidentally, the court went on to say that if she had informed the governors of her friendship, they could have decided what safeguarding steps would need to be taken to protect children, and therefore, she could not have been fairly dismissed in those circumstances.

This case is interesting as it is clear that in certain circumstances, employers may have the right to know about the private lives of their employees, and who they choose to associate with. Especially when there is a safeguarding issue. 

playground. Safeguarding at work

Nigel French