Removal of a TLR 2 payment and breach of contract
In Walker v The Governors of Arnhem Wharf Primary School, an employment tribunal found that the removal of a TLR supplement was an unlawful deduction of wages and, therefore, a breach of contract. It also ruled that, because the deduction was a material reason for Mr Walker’s resignation, he had been unfairly dismissed.
Mr Walker had initially started working at the school as a supply teacher. He had the additional responsibility of being the ‘subject lead’ for mathematics and received a TLR payment of £4,225 a year in addition to his normal salary. In July 2014, Mr Walker was given a further temporary contract for a new role covering a maternity absence. In this role, Mr Walker also received a TLR payment.
In 2015, Mr Walker was offered a permanent teaching post at the school, but no written contract or statement of terms and conditions relating to the permanent position were given to him. During the spring or summer term in 2015, Mr Walker met with the deputy headteacher to discuss his future employment. In this meeting, the deputy headteacher suggested that Mr Walker could be involved in developing the teaching of design and technology (DT) across the school. The outcome of the meeting was detailed in an email to the headteacher and copied to Mr Walker. In the email, reference was made to ‘his TLR role’.
In January 2016, Mr Walker received a ‘teacher salary assessment form’, which showed that he was being paid a TLR 2, as he had been in previous years. In the academic year, starting September 2016, he had his annual performance management review and in the assessment form he received, it again recorded an additional payment of a TLR 2.
In September 2017, there was an incident in the DT room, which resulted in a disciplinary investigation taking place into the actions of three members of staff, including Mr Walker. In October 2017, Mr Walker submitted a grievance to the chair of governors. As part of the investigation into Mr Walker’s grievance, the chair wanted to understand Mr Walker’s progress to upper pay scale point 3 and the headteacher looked at Mr Walker’s personnel file. She noted that Mr Walker’s last written contract was described as temporary and that he was a receiving a TLR 2. The headteacher decided that Mr Walker had not been entitled to a TLR 2 supplement from the time he started as the DT teacher. She wrote to him to confirm that his permanent contract would start on 1 December 2017. She also wrote:
‘Your file highlights that the temporary one year TLR 2b which accompanied the role in 2013 should have been ended after one year but as it was an error on our half [sic] we will not reclaim the over payment to you but will terminate the additional TLR 2b payment from 30 November 2017’.
The headteacher also told Mr Walker that there was no right of appeal against the decision, because it was not a performance related pay decision. This decision was based on the fact that the school’s pay policy set out a right of appeal against any pay recommendation made as part of the appraisal process. Therefore, it is directed at progression up any pay scale and is silent on the removal of a TLR.
However, the tribunal considered that, given the pay policy mirrored the national guidelines and included the right of appeal against any ‘pay decision’, the policy did permit Mr Walker to appeal under that policy. The tribunal also felt that, even if they were incorrect in their judgment, then Mr Walker should have been allowed to use the grievance policy to claim that he was entitled to the TLR payment.
The tribunal decision
The tribunal considered that the removal of 8% of Mr Walker’s salary to be ‘somewhat brutal’ and, given there had been no discussion or meeting before the decision was communicated, that he should have been granted the opportunity to raise his concerns. The tribunal felt that the failure to allow Mr Walker a hearing to explore the decision was ‘conduct likely to seriously damage the mutual duty of trust and confidence’.
The tribunal found that Mr Walker had a contractual right to the TLR payment, because they considered that he had accepted the DT role on the basis that he would be assigned duties that would entitle him to the TLR payment. They found that the removal of the TLR was a serious breach of contract. In addition, they found that the refusal by the headteacher to allow Mr Walker a hearing was also a serious breach of contract.
Although Mr Walker had raised a number of other issues as part of his claim, the tribunal dismissed them. However, the tribunal was satisfied that the removal of his TLR and the refusal to allow him any avenue of complaint was a material reason for Mr Walker’s decision to resign; he resigned in response to the breach.
The tribunal then considered whether the dismissal was fair or unfair. The tribunal found that the school had not satisfied them that there was a potentially fair reason for the dismissal. The tribunal decided that, even if they were wrong in this conclusion, the failure to follow any fair process when removing the TLR would have led them to the conclusion that the dismissal was unfair.
Given the discussion between the deputy headteacher and Mr Walker regarding the new DT role, the tribunal found that there was an agreement to vary the existing terms and that the permanent position started in 2015. They also found that there was an express agreement to pay Mr Walker the TLR payment in March 2015. If the school later considered that it had failed to allocate Mr Walker sufficient duties to justify the payment, then that did not mean it could unilaterally stop making the payment. It would have needed to terminate the contract.
Schools should regularly review the TLR payments they make to teaching staff. However, it is essential that they consult with affected members of staff and provide a right to appeal the decision, either through the pay policy or the grievance policy. Interestingly, although the tribunal did refer to the national terms and conditions for teachers, it did not make reference to the safeguarding provisions for teachers. However, schools are advised to follow the guidance set out in the school teachers’ pay and conditions document (STPCD).