The decision whether or not to suspend following discovery of an employee's suspected misconduct can impact on the subsequent disciplinary process. We look at when suspension might be appropriate and how employers should communicate their decision.
When is suspension appropriate?
In some cases it will be appropriate to suspend an employee while the business carries out an investigation into allegations of misconduct, particularly where those allegations are serious. However, the suspension of an employee is not without consequences and as such it should be used with caution and not as a knee-jerk reaction. When suspending an employer should be careful not to be seen as prejudging the outcome of the investigation or disciplinary process.
An employee should not be suspended without a good reason. Examples include where an employee has threatened violence or damage to property, where it is not possible to properly investigate the allegation if the employee remains at work (such as where they may destroy evidence or attempt to influence witnesses) or where the allegation is so serious that it may warrant summary dismissal if found to be true. Alternatives to suspension should be considered where appropriate, including whether it is possible to place the employee in another area of the business while the investigation is carried out.
In respect of allegations of potential gross misconduct, whilst suspension should still not be a knee-jerk reaction, best practice dictates that employees facing such allegations should be suspended while the employer carries out its investigation. Where the employee isn't suspended it may look as though the employer did not consider the incident to be serious enough to constitute gross misconduct. If that is the case the employer may find it difficult to justify summary dismissal down the line.
Any period of suspension should ordinarily:
- be on full pay
- kept as short as possible and
- be regularly reviewed
Where an employee is suspended, they should be told not to attend work or contact any of their colleagues or any of the employer's clients or contacts unless authorised to do so.
Employees need to be informed of the fact that they have been placed on suspension and the reasons for this as soon as possible. All conversations concerning suspension should be followed up in writing immediately. The letter should:
- make it clear that the employee is suspended, the reasons for this, and the anticipated length of suspension
- explain the employee's rights and obligations during the period of suspension, including that they should remain available for contact during normal working hours throughout 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 or clients
- notify the employee of a point of contact (such as a member of the human resources department) during their period of suspension
It is also important to emphasise in the suspension letter that the suspension is not in itself a disciplinary sanction but is a neutral act in order to allow the business to carry out an unhindered investigation as quickly as possible.
Even when an employee has been suspended the employer still owes them a duty of trust and confidence. As such any announcements about a suspension should be approached with care and should avoid any suggestion of guilt. Not only would such a suggestion potentially breach the duty of mutual trust and confidence making it difficult for the employee to return to work should the allegations against them be unfounded, it may also have a negative impact on the perceived fairness of any subsequent disciplinary process.
Following this guidance will place an employer in the best possible position to progress a case of suspected misconduct into the investigation phase without prejudicing its options to discipline, dismiss or take no further action, as appropriate.