Acas has recently published new guidance on suspension. We explore the guidance and look at what you need to know should you be suspended from work on disciplinary grounds.
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 should not be suspending because they assume an individual is guilty of wrongdoing. Suspension could be beneficial to an individual, to remove them from a stressful situation for example but, it should not be an automatic, knee jerk reaction by an employer to every potential disciplinary matter.
In what circumstances is disciplinary suspension appropriate?
The Acas guidance states that suspension should 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 subject to criminal investigation which may affect if they can do their job
What are the alternatives to suspension?
Acas recommends that employers should carefully consider all other options before suspending an employee, including, 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 working hours
- placing the employee on restricted duties
- requiring the employee to work under supervision
Will suspension 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 the suspension and reason for it should be kept confidential, where possible, and that the employer should discuss with the employee how they would like it to be explained to colleagues and customers.
How should suspension be carried out by my employer?
You should be informed in writing that you are being suspended and given the following information:
- the reason for the suspension and how long it is expected to last
- that suspension is not an assumption of guilt and is to enable the investigation to progress
- your rights and obligations during the suspension. For example, that you should be contactable during normal working hours
- a point of contact (such as an HR manager) should you have any queries during the suspension
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. 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 may 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 so, it should be carefully considered.
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, entitling them 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.
How can we help you?
If you have questions because you are currently suspended or subject to disciplinary proceedings then talk to our employment law specialists today. We’ll help you figure out the best way forward for you.