To suspend or not to suspend? – that is the question

It used to be so straightforward didn’t it?

In the olden days you used to dismiss on the spot after a brief collection of the facts.

Now you have to conduct an investigation before making any decision.

This changes everything……….

When you suspect an employee of some sort of serious misconduct, you send them straight home on full pay until you have investigated, confirming the suspension in writing.  You then bring them back in to a disciplinary meeting, keeping the gap between the two as short as possible.

But even this is not a clear cut as it used to be.

Suspension can no longer be a knee-jerk reaction to any potentially serious misconduct.  If you suspend an employee when it is not warranted it can amount to a breach of duty of trust and confidence.  This is an implied duty in every contract of employment.  Breaching this duty enables the employee to resign and bring a claim of constructive dismissal.

So when is it appropriate to suspend an employee?

You need to consider each situation on its own merits.  There are circumstances when it is appropriate to suspend on full pay pending an investigation, these include situations where:

  • There has been a break down in relationships
  • An employee’s attendance at work may hamper the investigation
  • There are risks to an employer’s property

Even in these circumstances you need to ensure that the suspension is as brief as possible, both in terms of fairness to the employee but also to minimise the cost to the company.

It is good practice to make a file note of the rationale for suspending at the time the decision is made.

What do you say to the employees colleagues?

There is no requirement to say anything.

Caution needs to be exercised to ensure that you cannot be accused of pre-judging the outcome of the disciplinary process.

‘Fred is suspended whilst we investigate how he fiddled his expenses’ is not helpful and leaves you wide open.

Much better would be ‘Fred is on leave’ or ‘Fred is absent from work, and should be back…….’

Can you place any restrictions on a suspended employee?

Within reason, yes.

It might be appropriate to restrict access to witnesses, documents and/or computer systems during any period of suspension.  However, you need to ensure that the employee has an appropriate opportunity to respond to any allegations of misconduct, which may involve the reviewing documents and/or speaking to particular individuals.

The investigation will give the employee the opportunity to identify relevant documentation or witnesses that the investigating manager should include in the investigation.  If the employee wants to contact individuals directly this is best arranged via a named intermediary.

Either way any restrictions that you want to impose should be spelled out in writing to the individual at the time of suspension.

Athena Professional does not provide legal advice, however, robust legal advice at an early stage in the discipline and grievance process can save an employer a lot of money, time and energy.