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When an employee’s misconduct seems severe or shocking, it can often be a knee jerk reaction to suspend them. However, employers should exercise caution, to avoid being on the wrong end of an unfair or constructive dismissal claim.
Most disciplinary allegations will not require suspension. ACAS guidance states that suspension should never be an automatic approach for an employer when dealing with a potential disciplinary matter.
Knee-jerk suspensions should be avoided and you should ensure you can demonstrate that you applied your mind to the issue of suspension and had reasonable and proper cause for deciding to suspend in the circumstances (and that these reasons stand up to scrutiny).
Suspension can amount to a breach of the implied term of trust and confidence where there is not reasonable and proper cause to suspend. That question of whether or not there is reasonable and proper cause to suspend is highly fact-specific.
An employer considering suspending an employee should think carefully and consider all other options. You should also consider whether you have the contractual right to suspend the employee, if not you could be in breach of contract.
How will I know if suspension is necessary or not?
Suspension should usually only be considered if there is a serious allegation of misconduct and:
- working relationships have severely broken down
- the employee could tamper with evidence, influence witnesses and/or sway the investigation into the allegation
- there is a risk to other employees, property or customers
- the employee is the subject of criminal proceedings which may affect whether they can do their job.
What is the correct process for suspending?
If you’ve decided that it is appropriate to suspend, make you inform the employee as soon as possible and follow up in writing promptly. The letter should, among other things:
- Make it clear that the employee is suspended and what the reason for the suspension is. Set out how long it is anticipated the employee will be suspended for.
- Point out that the purpose of the suspension is to investigate and is not an assumption of guilt.
- Explain the employee's rights and obligations during the period of suspension.
- State that the employment contract continues but that the employee is not to report to work and must not contact colleagues, clients, customers or suppliers.
- Notify the employee of a point of contact, such as an HR manager, during their period of suspension.
Suspension should not be seen as a form of punishment for the employee; instead it should be regarded as a means of carrying out an investigation as quickly and effectively as possible.
Suspension should always be as short as possible and kept under review.
An employee should be kept regularly updated about their suspension, the ongoing reasons for it, and how much longer it is likely to last. It is important that the employee is supported during this time and is able to contact someone at the workplace to discuss any concerns they may have.