To Suspend or not to Suspend – An Employers Dilemma?

Posted: 8th October 2022

A suspension from work involves an Employer instructing its employee to stop working on a temporary basis. Suspensions are most  often seen where an employer suspects an employee of misconduct, usually serious misconduct, which may result in a decision to dismiss the employee concerned.

The problem with suspending an employee arises from the most fundamental aspect of the employer / employee relationship the so called relationship of trust and confidence. A suspended employee may argue that a decision to exclude them from the workplace is a clear vote of ‘no confidence’, and in some situations this can and does give rise to claims of Constructive Dismissal. Suspension can take a huge  emotional toll on an employee

Suspension is often referred to by Employment Tribunals as not  being a ‘neutral act’, contrary to the message often conveyed to employees in letters sent to them after their suspension emphasising that no decisions on fault or guilt have yet been made. The old adage ‘no smoke without fire’ best sums up the predicament.

ACAS have recently updated their guidance to Employers on how employers should approach suspensions and, as always, prudent Employers should consider that guidance carefully before taking the decision. In a nutshell the advice from ACAS is to suspend only if the situation is regarded as serious and where there’s no other option. Suspension should not be regarded as an automatic response to what appears at first a serious situation, and an initial investigation should always take place first. Suspension is a means of protection to the Employees Business, the integrity of any Disciplinary investigation, its staff and the individual concerned

When suspending many employees fail to consider alternative and less draconian options which can include:

  • Requiring the employee to work from home
  • Moving the employee to a different location
  • Restricting what they do at work for example to restrict access to monies financial systems or materials for employees suspected  of theft
  • Restricting access to colleagues for employees suspected of bullying or discrimination.

In such cases ACAS further encourage Employers to explain in advance, the reason for the request/instruction, and should manage this in such a way as to keep the reason for the decision confidential, including discussing with the employee how they will explain the change to colleagues, customers, and clients. ACAS also encourage Employers to consider in advance of their decision the wellbeing of the individual concerned and the effect which the decision could have on their mental health.

Where a decision to suspend is taken that decision should of course be confirmed in writing and the period of suspension should be for no longer than is reasonably necessary. Suspensions  should be reviewed periodically and again confirmed in writing. Employers  are also encouraged to offer support to individuals during the period of tier suspension particularly in relation to their mental health which could be prejudiced particularly where the period of suspension runs into weeks or even months.

A period of suspension will end with a decision to start formal Disciplinary Proceedings or with a decision to take no further action and in the second case will involve a careful reintegration of the employee concerned, the success of which will depend largely on the employers management of the suspension to that point.

Get it right and suspension is a valuable approach in addressing a problem and resolving it fairly and reasonably, hopefully avoiding any costly consequences. Get it wrong and a problem could become multiplied.

The ACAS guide is available from the ACAS website.

For further guidance please contact Graham Shannon at [email protected].