In situations where you’re investigating an employee for gross misconduct, you may find it appropriate to suspend them.
Suspension can be a useful measure to take but, as with all people matters, there’s a process that you need to follow carefully. If you suspend one of your employees, you need to do it lawfully. If you get the process wrong, you could find yourself in breach of their employment contract and could risk facing an employment tribunal claim.
When to suspend an employee?
You may need to suspend an employee if you’re carrying out an investigation, usually into an alleged issue of gross misconduct, and are concerned that your business and/or employees will be at risk if the employee remains in the workplace. Another reason for suspension could be that you believe the employee’s presence will hinder your investigation.
Before reaching a decision about whether a suspension is appropriate, make sure you fully understand the allegations against the employee and have spoken to them to hear their side of the story.
There are several further points you should also consider before suspending an employee. These include: Are there any alternatives to suspension that would mitigate the identified risks? This could be working from home or from another work location, or limiting their access to business matters where you believe there could be a risk.
What does their employment contract say? Make sure that there is a contractual provision in the employee’s contract for you to suspend them.
What impact will suspension have on the employee? In all employment relationships there is an implied term of trust and confidence that the employer will not do anything that might damage the relationship with the employee and/or which will make it impossible for them to continue working for them.
While not intended as a punishment, a suspension often feels like this to the employee, and could irrevocably damage your relationship with them. A suspension might also impact their reputation or professional standing.
As a result, if an employee feels they have been suspended unreasonably, they could claim that the term of trust and confidence has been breached.
How to suspend an employee?
Once you have carefully considered the situation and determined that suspension is fair and reasonable, you should hold a meeting with the employee to communicate your decision to them.
In this meeting you should explain that:
- you have decided to suspend them pending the investigation into the specific allegation(s) and provide reasoning as to why you decided it was necessary to suspend them.
- the matter is and must be treated as confidential, and advise them which colleagues will be told.
- they are not to attend the office, access computer systems, or make contact with their colleagues or business contacts during their suspension.
- they need to remain available and provide any information or details the Company reasonably request to assist with the investigation or to cover their work while they are suspended.
- they are still employed and need to comply with their contract and policies, and they will be paid as normal as long as they remain available for work.
- they must not carry out any work for anyone else or for themselves during their contracted working hours. They must be available to cooperate with the investigation during normal working hours, and if they become unwell then they need to notify you in the normal way.
Here are some further important points to consider:
- It’s important to make clear that the suspension is not a punishment and you have made no decisions about guilt or any outcomes at this stage.
- Reassure them that they will have an opportunity to put their side of the story across and that you will keep the suspension as short as possible and will continually review whether it is necessary.
- Provide them with a point of contact during the suspension, ideally someone not involved in the investigation, but who can keep the employee updated regularly.
- Confirm your decision in writing regarding the next stage of the process as soon as possible.
- Communicate with colleagues and third parties. Remember that while the matter must be kept confidential, if no explanation is given, other employees may jump to assumptions. Acknowledge the absence but keep your explanation neutral and provide an alternative contact in their absence.
- Continue to pay the employee their normal pay.
- Put in place any additional security measures, such as removing remote access to company systems.
- Keep the suspension as short as possible. Do everything you can to limit the amount of time someone is suspended and regularly review whether suspension is still necessary.
- Keep notes of all meetings and considerations you have taken into account when making your decisions.
Ending an employee’s suspension
If you reach a decision that suspension is no longer required or the investigation has been completed and the employee may return to work, you should meet with the employee to confirm your decision.
Employees often find that returning to work after a suspension can be challenging, so you will need to approach things sensitively. In the meeting:
- Reassure them that the suspension will have no detrimental effects on their future at the company.
- Invite them to ask questions and express any concerns.
- Discuss how you can help make returning to work easier for them.
- Confirm with the employee what you will both say to others about the reason for their absence. Agree on a neutral explanation, such as ‘absence due to personal reasons’, to keep the matter confidential.
Nobody wants to have to suspend an employee but sometimes it is a necessary measure to take if there are no suitable alternatives to the situation. Ensuring you have followed a fair process for the suspension and clearly communicated to the employee what will happen during their period of suspension are key to getting a suspension right.
The content of this blog is for general information only. Please don’t rely on it as legal or other professional advice as that is not what we intend. You can find more detail on this in our Terms of Website Use. If you require professional advice, please get in touch.
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