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Prohibition on talking to colleagues

There’s quite a lot that’s troubling about the dismissal of Leonora Rustamova for what sounds like inspired and committed teaching of hard-to-reach pupils.

One point of quite wide practical interest is in Ms Rustamova’s claim that when she was suspended, she was banned by her employer from speaking to anyone from the school or its community (see the Guardian interview of her here).

Can employers lawfully do this?

It’s not at all clear that they can. Your right to respect for your private and family life under article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights includes a right to associate freely with your friends; and freedom of expression (which includes the freedom to ‘receive and impart information and ideas’) is guaranteed by article 10. These aren’t unqualified rights – but neither can your employer set them aside just because it feels like it. If your employer suspends you and bans you, temporarily, from talking to the specific people it wants to interview in the course of its investigation of your suspected misconduct, that’s probably lawful. But a purported ban on talking to any colleagues or anyone connected with the employer for an indefinite period is likely to be seen as an excessive interference with your rights to respect for your private and family life and freedom of expression. The wider the ban, the more likely it is to be unlawful.

What you actually do about this is another matter. If you defy a ban placed on you during suspension, you may well attract further disciplinary proceedings for that – which could result in dismissal even if the original investigation clears you. If your main aim is to preserve your job, being theoretically within your rights will be fairly cold comfort.

But if you do find yourself accused of breaching the terms of your suspension, it may be worth arguing before the employment tribunal that the ban was unlawful and therefore not something you could be fairly disciplined for.

One comment

  1. Ross

    Would this point be relevant only to public sector employment? The Human Rights Act 1998 applies only to public authorities.

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