Miss Henderson worked as a mentor and leader for girls aged 11-16 who had barriers to learning, at inner city school in the London Borough of Hackney. She was sacked for gross misconduct after it was discovered that she had been using the school computers to download pornography and distribute it to her colleagues.
She denied that the material (which was explicitly pornographic) was inappropriate, arguing that it might be an enriching experience for the children to see this and from which they would suffer no harm. This argument did not convince the school who dismissed her.
She claimed that because the school had no explicit rule against teaching staff bringing pornography into school or viewing pornography at school, then she could not be disciplined for doing so. And she claimed that dismissing her was a breach of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights – which protects freedom of expression.
The case made its way through tribunal and employment appeal tribunal – both of which found in the school’s favour. How much did that cost in legal fees?
Employers often complain about pointless cases being brought against them in tribunal, but wasn’t the school a bit of a sitting duck? There was nothing in the contract or policies issued by the school the restricted the use of the internet in any way.
If you are an employer who wants to restrict what can be downloaded on your computers (for whatever reason) it is a cheaper and more effective option to issue a simple internet policy or set of rules.
If the school had had such a policy in place (and could show it was issued) they could have stopped this tribunal at a preliminary hearing and may be even have gone for costs against the claimant instead of spending vital money from the education budget on litigation.
A short clear internet usage policy would have done the trick!
The picture is clipart posed by models and not of the real teacher or class
Christopher Head is director of specialist employment law consultancy Irenicon Ltd. One of Christopher’s key skills is drafting short but comprehensive employment contracts in plain English that put the employer in the driving seat with problem staff. http://www.irenicon.co.uk/ email: firstname.lastname@example.org tel: 08452 303050 (local rate caller number) fax: 08452 303060