There are various reasons why an employer might want to suspend an employee, usually in the context of a disciplinary matter. We answer all the questions you may have if you are suspended from work, including whether your employer has to give you notice of suspension.
When can I be suspended?
People are usually suspended from work by their employer in the context of a disciplinary investigation. However, it is also possible, although less common, for a worker to be suspended on medical grounds or, where a risk to a new or expectant mother has been identified in the workplace. This article focuses on disciplinary suspension.
What is suspension?
Very simply, it is where an employee continues to be employed (and so is generally entitled to continue receiving pay and benefits) ,but does not have to attend their place of work or do any work.
What does suspension mean in the context of a disciplinary procedure?
Suspension should always be used as a neutral response by an employer and never as a disciplinary sanction. An employer must not suspend purely because they assume an individual is guilty of wrongdoing.
Suspension might be beneficial to an individual, to remove them from a stressful situation for example, but it must not be an automatic, knee jerk reaction by an employer to every potential disciplinary matter.
In what circumstances is disciplinary suspension appropriate?
Acas has published guidance which states that suspension must only be considered by an employer 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 subject to criminal investigation which might affect their ability to do their job.
If the disciplinary allegation is of a less serious nature, or none of these issues are relevant then your employer should not be considering suspension.
Can I be suspended without warning?
Obviously, your employer needs to let you know that they intend to suspend you. This may be done orally, in a meeting for example, and may be “out of the blue”. However, the suspension and its terms should always be confirmed in writing afterwards.
There is no set amount of notice that an employer must give an employee to warn them that they are being suspended, but they must always act in accordance with any relevant disciplinary policy.
However, it is rare for standard policies to require employees be given a warning before suspension. Any written notice confirming suspension should include the following information:
- the reason for the suspension and how long it is expected to last,
- acknowledgment that the suspension is not an assumption of guilt and is to enable the investigation to progress,
- your rights and obligations during the suspension. For example, you may be required to remain contactable during normal work hours,
- a point of contact (such as an HR manager) for any queries whilst suspended.
What are the alternatives to suspension?
Acas recommends that employers carefully consider all other options before suspending an employee. These options could include, on a temporary basis:
- moving the employee to a different team or role (of similar status and on the same terms and conditions),
- allowing the employee to work from home,
- changing the employee’s work hours,
- placing the employee on restricted duties,
- requiring the employee to work under supervision.
Will being suspended damage my reputation?
Although suspension should be seen as a neutral act, in reality it can damage someone’s reputation within their workplace if it becomes common knowledge. Acas therefore recommends that, where possible, the suspension and the reason behind it should be kept confidential. It is also recommended that the employer discusses with the suspended employee how they would like it to be explained to colleagues and customers.
Can my employer refuse to pay me during my suspension?
No, not unless there is an unambiguous contractual right for the employer to suspend without pay and benefits i.e. your employment contract says very clearly that your employer can do this.
Even if there is (and this would be rare), to exercise that right makes it look like the employer is applying a punishment and not using suspension as a neutral act. This could support a future claim that the disciplinary process was unfair, for example because the employer assumed guilt before carrying out any proper investigation.
Alternatively, an employer may be able to avoid paying an employee their full pay during a suspension if the employee is ill and there is no contractual right to full pay during such time. They would however still be entitled to receive their usual sick pay.
How long can my employer suspend me for?
Any suspension must be reasonably brief but, it will depend upon how long the employer needs to complete the investigation. They should not be unreasonably slow and need to keep the situation under regular review to assess if suspension remains necessary. For example, once all witnesses have been interviewed it will potentially be possible for the employee to be allowed to return while the employer reviews the evidence.
What can I do if I disagree with my suspension?
If you cannot agree matters informally with your employer then one option is to raise a formal grievance, using your employer’s formal grievance procedure. However, this course of action is likely to prolong matters while the employer deals with the grievance.
In certain circumstances, an employer’s mishandling of an employee’s suspension could amount to a breach of the implied term of trust and confidence This means the employee will be to resign and claim constructive dismissal.
Alternatively, an employee’s suspension could amount to discrimination, for example, if one employee is suspended and another, in the same situation, isn’t. This would enable the employee to bring a claim in the employment tribunal.
An employer has to have reasonable and proper cause to suspend you. It may be acting unreasonably (and in breach of contract) where the disciplinary allegation against you isn’t credible. For example, if your employer is acting on vague, contradictory or uncorroborated allegations.
How can we help you?
If you have questions because you are currently suspended from work or subject to disciplinary proceedings then talk to our employment law specialists today. We’ll help you figure out the best way forward in your specific circumstances.