A teacher who had been suspected, but not charged, of possessing indecent images of children was fairly dismissed, the Court of Session in Scotland has ruled.
The teacher, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had been arrested after the images had been found on his home PC. His son also had access to the computer and was also arrested, but charges against both were later dropped.
After an investigation, the teacher was dismissed by the school on the grounds that, while it could not be proven that he had downloaded the images, the fact he may have done was a safeguarding concern.
The local authority argued that there had been a breakdown of trust and that the teacher posed “an unacceptable level of risk to the council of serious reputational damage”.
The teacher took his employer to tribunal, which in the first instance found that the dismissal was fair on the grounds of “some other substantial reason” (SOSR).
He later took the case to the Employment Appeal Tribunal in Edinburgh, which found in his favour because the school had not been clear that he could risk dismissal due to the reputational harm caused.
The EAT had found fault with the SOSR grounds for dismissal, which it claimed had not been fairly put.
The case was then referred to the Court of Session, which concluded that there are some circumstances in which it is reasonable for an employer to dismiss someone who may be innocent if there is a genuine and substantial reason for the dismissal, even if another employer might have acted differently.
The judgment said: “There may be education authorities who would not have dismissed the teacher. They might take the view that they needed more information, for example as to the number and nature of the images. They might consider that it would be wrong to dismiss someone who could well be innocent.
“Notwithstanding their child protection responsibilities, they might be prepared to take the risk which the employer here considered to be unacceptable. However, that such can be described as reasonable responses, does not mean that this employer’s decision to dismiss was unreasonable.
“The ET applied the correct test to unchallenged findings of fact, and it is well established that an appeal can be taken only on a question of law.”