In situations where you are investigating an employee for gross misconduct, you may find it appropriate to suspend them.
Suspension can be a useful tool, but as with all people matters, there’s a process that you must 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 you could risk facing an employment tribunal claim that would leave you paying compensation and an additional payment.
So what do you need to think about when considering suspension?
- Act quickly but with calm consideration: You will need to deal with the allegations or suspicions as soon as they come up, and if suspension is a consideration, you need to follow the process without delay.
- Consider the impact on the employee: Suspension is likely to have an extreme impact on the employee; many describe it as ‘being treated like a criminal’. This needs to be part of your decision-making process, and you need to handle the matter sensitively.
- Check the employment contract: check whether there is a contractual provision in the employee’s contract that provides you with an express right to suspend the employee.
- Check that you are familiar with your grievance and disciplinary process that should be included in your staff handbook.
And, what are the practical steps to take next?
- Consider whether suspension is lawful: this can be the hardest decision to make in the process and is a difficult balancing act.
- Speak to the employee prior to suspension: A meeting is always recommended but doing it by telephone is sufficient if a meeting is not practical.
- Confidentiality: Keep the details of the suspension confidential to those who really need to know for the purpose of investigating. Explain to everyone involved the need to keep the matter confidential.
- Keep the suspension as short as possible: You will need to do everything you can to limit the amount of time someone is suspended. Dealing with the investigation and if necessary, the disciplinary process as quickly as possible and regularly reviewing whether suspension is still necessary will help with this.
- Communicate with the employee: don’t just leave them hanging – they are less likely to cooperate and more likely to feel they are being punished if you don’t give them regular updates on the progress of the investigation.
- Make notes of the considerations you make and the meetings you have: If you have the resources and time to use a note taker that is always useful but otherwise write it down yourself either in the meeting or straightaway after the meeting.
- Apply the process consistently: You may have difficulties if you suspend someone but you did not suspend another person in the same circumstances previously and vice versa.
When allegations of misconduct or gross misconduct arise, don’t go it alone. It’s not worth the emotional stress or disruption to your business. Instead, we recommend seeking advice from a qualified HR consultant.