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Employee arrested for sex offence loses breach of contract claim

Posted: 15th October 2020   In: Business Employment, Individual Employment

An employee who was suspended from her work after being arrested for a serious sexual offence has lost her claim for breach of contract.

The employee, who worked for HMRC, was arrested in August 2018.

In accordance with her employment contract, she disclosed the arrest and the sexual offence to her line manager, who further disclosed that information internally, including to the press office.

The employee was suspended from work and on 4 September and HMRC notified her that she was the subject of a disciplinary investigation. She went on sick leave and asked for the suspension and investigation to be halted, alleging that the proposed investigation was in breach of the General Data Protection Regulations.

She complained that the suspension, the processing of her personal data and HMRC's contractual requirement for her to disclose information about her arrest, was unlawful.

The High Court rejected her claims. It held that HMRC’s processing of the data met the requirements of the Regulations in that it was necessary for the performance of the employment contract and enabled the employer to exercise its rights conferred by law.

The employee’s obligation to inform HMRC of her arrest and of the offences alleged against her was consistent with the terms of her employment contract. It was made clear that criminal offence data might be processed in various circumstances, including in the exercise of HMRC's employment-related rights, such as to investigate potential misconduct and undertake disciplinary proceedings.

In view of the very serious nature of the offences for which she had been arrested, there was no sensible basis on which to challenge the decision to commence a disciplinary investigation and to suspend her while further inquiries were made.

There was no realistic prospect of her establishing that using her personal data for the purposes of disciplinary proceedings, including the decision to suspend, was unlawful for the purposes of the Regulations.

Moreover, HMRC had an appropriate policy document in place. In terms of the internal sharing of the data, the nature of the offences meant that there was a clear business reason to brief HMRC's press office in order to ensure that it would be able to respond if the allegations against her entered the public domain.

Please contact Simran Lalli if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of employment law.

Employee arrested for sex offence loses breach of contract claim
[2020] EWHC 2355 (QB)