Suspensions at work

In this article, Employment specialists Helen Snow and Hollie Lewis look at the issues employers should consider around suspensions at work.

Employers should consider the practicalities and appropriateness surrounding suspending an employee. A suspension occurs when an employee remains employed but their employer asks them not to engage in any work (either at home or the office) or attend the place of work. Many employers and employees feel suspension is difficult to navigate as it can be stressful for all involved with significant effect on working relationships.

Employers must only suspend an employee if it is appropriate. There are two types of suspensions:

• suspending an employee in a serious situation while an investigation is carried out as part of a disciplinary process in which there are no alternatives to suspension; and
• suspending an employee for medical, pregnancy and/or health and safety reasons.

Acas published guidance for employers to consider the circumstances surrounding suspension carefully before making the decision. This involves considering temporary alternative options to suspension such as a change in shifts or work pattern, working from home, site or in a different part of the organisation, stopping part of the job or working in an area away from customers. For example, where an employer has an employee in a customer facing role and a serious complaint from a customer is alleged which required an investigation, the employer could offer the employee to work in an area which did not involve dealing with customers while the investigation is implemented.

Any change should be discussed with an employee, kept confidential and the reason for suspension made clear. It can be beneficial to an employer and employee to discuss the alternative options to suspension at a meeting, with the suspension confirmed in writing after. Where an employer has considered alternative options prior to a meeting with the employee, an explanation of the alternative options explored and the reasoning for why they would not be appropriate in the circumstances should be conveyed to the employee. Employers should continue to support suspended employees by staying in regular contact throughout the suspension with consideration of the employee’s mental health and wellbeing. It is important employers make clear suspension does not mean an employee has done something wrong and it should not be used as a form of discipline.

Length of suspension
The length of suspension depends on the type of suspension and the circumstances. For those where suspension is as a result of allegations of misconduct and an investigation is being carried out, the length of suspension should be kept to a minimum. Employers have an obligation to keep the decision of suspension for misconduct allegations under review.

The length of suspension for medical or health and safety reasons can be up to 26 weeks on full pay providing the employee has been employed for at least one month. The length of suspension for pregnancy can be for as long as there is a risk of health and safety to the individual or the baby which could be for the duration of the individual’s pregnancy.

Employment rights
Employees who are suspended retain their employment rights throughout the suspension as they remain employees of the business. Consequently, unless there is a clause in the employment contract which stipulates an employee can be suspended without pay, they should continue to receive full pay. The employment contract should indicate whether additional payments including commission will be included with full pay on suspension.

Employers can set conditions on their employees, including prohibiting an employee from discussing the suspension and speaking to colleagues, customers and/or clients of the business, unless the employee can show this prevention interferes with the employee’s ability to answer allegations.

If you require any advice concerning the above, please contact the Employment team.

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