Updated: Aug 18
This is question we get asked regularly. You may feel uncomfortable with the concept of suspending an employee, possibly because you have never had cause to do it up until now or you may be challenged by the employee. It is important not to make a quick decision and be clear about why suspension is necessary.
What does ‘suspension’ mean in employment terms?
An employee is suspended when they are asked to stay from work and to refrain from engaging in any work. This could be due to a potential case of misconduct or gross misconduct or for health reasons when it would be detrimental to the employee’s health to remain at work. Whilst on suspension, the employee should remain on full pay and continue to accrue annual leave and all other terms and conditions remain unchanged.
When to suspend?
Important advice here is not to make any knee jerk reactions; take time to consider and discuss with an HR professional. Your disciplinary policy is likely to include suspension as an option. The decision to suspend very much depends on the individual case and the approach should be consistent.
If there is a potential case of misconduct/gross misconduct you need to carefully consider the risk of the employee remaining at work, e.g. Do they pose a risk to those working around them or may be a risk to the workings and success of the business? In the case of a medical reason, it is always advisable to refer to a medical professional, often occupational health.
Before taking a decision to suspend, consider other options. Is there a reason to suspend rather than the individual remaining in work? Years ago, suspension was the first step in many processes. The tide has turned somewhat, with employers moving to suspension only when absolutely necessary.
Suspension should not take place before an investigation has begun. Otherwise, as an employer, you would be acting on hearsay. Once the investigation has started, and if information comes to light or is confirmed that leads you to believe that it would not be appropriate for the employee to be removed from their usual team, responsibilities or place of work, think about whether there are other options.
Would it be possible to move the employee to another area? To work from home. Every case is different and should be evaluated depending on the circumstances and seriousness.
Suspending an employee as part of the disciplinary process can provide a better opportunity for a robust investigation to be conducted, where in some cases an employee’s continued presence at work could impede the investigation.
How to Suspend?
It is always preferable to have a conversation face to face as it can be very upsetting for the employee concerned and they will need ongoing support. Assigning another member of staff to be a ‘buddy’ who can keep in touch throughout the process is a good idea. It should not be anyone taking on another role in the case, and it needs to be someone the employee is comfortable with. Also ensure the ‘buddy’ is comfortable being in that position too.
Of course, with remote working now common, if a face to face discussion is not possible, a virtual meeting is the next best thing. You do not need to give any notice of a suspension but by this point the employee is likely to be aware of the issue, so it may not come as such a surprise.
In the meeting give a clear explanation for the reason for suspension, what it means, and what the employee can and cannot do during the period of suspension. The suspension needs to be confirmed in writing detailing all the necessary information, so the employee knows what is happening and what to expect.
One question always asked is ‘how long will I be suspended for’? Your disciplinary policy may stipulate a timescale but if not, it needs to be as short as possible. The employee needs to understand that suspension is not an outcome, and neither does it infer guilt. Emphasize that it is part of the process.
When suspending, consideration needs to be given to whether access to company systems should be suspended, mobile phones taken away etc, and if contact with colleagues should continue or not.
What about colleagues – what do they need to know?
Obviously when someone disappears from the workplace without warning, it is noticed, and colleagues ask questions and rumours can start as assumptions are made. There is nothing in principle to stop you making an ‘announcement.’ However, it may do more harm than good. You need to consider confidentiality and the impact and implications of making the absence ‘public’ not only for the individual personally, but it could affect the case. If rumours become rampant and start to have a detrimental effect on the workplace, then it may be necessary to communicate brief information. Discretion needs to be used to produce appropriate wording to strike the right balance of just saying enough to manage the situation and not giving confidential information away. The suspended employee should be made aware of any such communication.
The suspension can be lifted at any point in in the investigation, or once a decision has been made about any action to be taken as a result. The employee needs to be notified in writing the suspension is ending with an effective date.
If the employee is returning to the workplace careful consideration needs to be given to support them and to ensure they feel comfortable especially around their colleagues and what they say, and how they answer questions. This is not an easy process, and it may take time for them to feel secure and part of a team again. On their return it is important to monitor how they are settling back in and the ’buddy’ who supported them could be an integral part of a successful return to the workplace.
Annual Leave during Suspension
If annual leave was booked prior to the suspension, then the employee should be able to continue to take it. The suspension continues throughout, and their leave is still recorded as annual leave. If the employee wishes to take leave once the suspension has started, then it is at your discretion whether to grant it and the usual procedure should be followed.
Remember they may be needed to take part in the investigation process. Even though they are suspended, they must remain available throughout, so annual leave may not be appropriate.
What happens if the employee is signed off sick during suspension?
The employee should still follow the normal process to report sickness absence as if they were in the workplace, notifying their employer that they have been signed off. The suspension can then continue to run along the sick leave.
Finally, three key messages………...
Don’t suspend automatically – think about it
Only suspend once the investigation is underway
Follow a fair process, keeping the suspension period short and communication open
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The content of our blogs is intended for general information only and does not replace legal or other professional advice.