In August 2020, the UK learned about Conservative MP Mark Francios, who got accused of sexually assaulting a co-worker but was not suspended from duty.
In this article, we look at the different types of suspension from work together with the circumstances when suspending employees from duty is appropriate and when it is essential to suspend someone from duty, hopefully dispelling a few myths along the way.
What is employee suspension?
Employee suspension involves someone being asked to remain away from work temporarily. It’s usually when disciplinary matters are under investigation, and it’s deemed inappropriate for the employee to remain working during that period of the inquiry.
Suspending an employee is not a disciplinary sanction; it is used purely as a holding measure.
What are the rules for suspending an employee from work?
Suspension From Work Due to Poor Conduct
This article’s central focus is poor conduct, which is the most common reason for suspending an employee.
When an allegation of gross misconduct comes to light, the rules for suspending an employee should be followed carefully. As with any serious allegation, the main reason for suspending the employee can carry out an investigation fairly, but failing to suspend the accused employee may impact the fairness of any potential dismissal.
For example, if someone gets accused of stealing from the till. Rather than them suspended pending investigation, they were allowed to continue working and handle cash because their employer was short-staffed. Some weeks later, the allegations of theft get proved at a disciplinary hearing, and the employee in question gets dismissed on the grounds of gross misconduct.
In a gross misconduct dismissal, the employer is reasonable to conclude that the trust and confidence placed in the employee were breached. Hence they feel they have no alternative other than to terminate the employment contract.
Please see our previous article on Gross Misconduct
However, the employer cannot reasonably justify allowing that person to continue to work and handle cash when they had reasonable grounds for the employee to be suspended for gross misconduct after suspecting they were committing acts of theft. In failing to suspend at the earliest opportunity and without good reason, they may have undermined the rationality and fairness of their decision to dismiss their employee summarily.
Let’s also take the case example that made headlines in august 2020. The criticism surrounding the failure to suspend an employee accused of a serious sexual assault calls into question the duty of care shown to the alleged victim.
The alleged perpetrator must get suspended from work with pay or without in cases of sexual harassment or sexual assault at work. This is not because they are assumed guilty but because it is entirely unacceptable to expect the person who has raised the complaint to work alongside the alleged perpetrator whilst the matter is investigated. Doing so clearly conveys that their complaint is not being taken seriously. It, in turn, places the company at risk of a potential constructive dismissal claim and a possible claim on the grounds of sexual discrimination. It is also a considerable risk to other members of staff, clients, etc., who are potentially being placed in harm’s way should there be some foundation to the allegations raised.
You must follow employee suspension laws, and a suspension pending investigation letter should be given to the employee.
Put simply, suspending an employee can also be a matter of safeguarding the employees and the companies. If you are unsure of what to write in a suspension letter, you can use the suspension letter template ACAS offers on their website.
2. Suspended From Work UK Due to Poor Health
Employees can get suspended from work, UK laws state, on medical grounds. During an investigation, the employee is entitled to be suspended from work with pay.
The medical suspension gets used when someone’s health and safety are at risk, for example:
- A pregnancy risk for a new or expectant mother assessment has identified that using a particular cleaning substance is a hazard. An employee suspension and further investigations are required before the employee can safely resume their duties, if at all.
- Suspending an employee that has been absent long term, and the employer has serious concerns that they may be trying to return to work too early and perhaps require an occupational health assessment to be carried out.
Suspension on medical grounds is usually a last resort. It often carries a significant risk of unlawful suspension from work in terms of discrimination, usually on the grounds of disability and (as per the example above) on the grounds of pregnancy. Hence you must understand how to suspend an employee from work and seek advice before suspending anyone on medical grounds.
Suspension from work FAQs
I have received a complaint of sexual harassment against one of my senior managers. They are in a crucial role in the business. Would employee suspension laws allow me to remove the person who has made the complaint whilst the matter is investigated rather than suspend the manager?
You’re on dicey ground with this!
Put bluntly, to place operational business needs above a staff member’s safety may not be your intention, but if you do what you’re suggesting, that is precisely the message you will be sending out. It is also discriminatory, and therefore this course of action can potentially damage your business in the long run. A suspension of employee letter should be completed and served to the manager that has been accused. The manager should get suspended from work without pay or with, depending on what is in their contract, and they should obey the suspension from work until the investigation is complete.
Following employee suspension for harassment, can I stop the employee and their accuser from working together if the investigation found no evidence against the accused?
Any working relationships after such claims would probably make any contact difficult. After an employee suspension and investigation, there is likely to be a certain amount of animosity between the employees. If the original complaint was of a serious or sexual nature, you might be putting other staff members at risk by simply moving the alleged problem.
After being suspended for gross misconduct, you may be able to have them work from home and undertake tasks which do not cause any direct contact with other staff but again, care should be taken here and advice sought.
I’m unsure how to suspend an employee from work, so what should I do?
If the person is at work, you should call them somewhere private. You should inform them that they will serve a suspension from work, and then you should send them home.
If they are not at work, you can contact them by telephone the same way as the above.
You can simply inform them in writing by sending them a suspension of employee letter:
A letter of suspension is always required and should contain the following:
- The reason they are serving a suspension from work, e.g., an outline of the disciplinary allegations if it is a conduct issue.
- The terms of the suspension, i.e., that it is on full pay, they are not to attend their place of work etc.
- Their suspension is not a disciplinary sanction.
- How long the suspension is likely to remain in place
- To whom they should raise any queries relating to their employee suspension.
I recently had to suspend an employee, and he has asked me, ‘How long can you be suspended from work pending investigation?’
How long can you be suspended from work pending investigation? For as little time as possible is the best way of answering that!
After all, you don’t want someone suspended from work with pay for any longer than necessary. And in addition to this, being on suspension is very stressful for an employee.
Try to ensure you maintain contact during the suspension. Also, during the investigation, consideration should be given to whether suspension remains appropriate.
Can my employee be suspended from work without pay?
If the employer has the contractual right to suspend without pay, this is legally acceptable but not necessarily a good idea.
An employee suspension from work without pay is frowned upon because an employer can rarely demonstrate that it is reasonable to suspend someone’s contractual rights during employment.
It can have a detrimental effect and prejudice the fairness of a disciplinary process, as it gives an impression that you have already decided on the person’s guilt.
Hence, it is considered fair and proper that an employee gets suspended from work with pay, and you conduct your investigation quickly.
What if a staff member goes off sick after receiving an employee suspension?
Sickness absence will supersede suspension; therefore, you will likely be lifting the employee suspension and placing them on sick leave/pay.
The investigation can continue, but whether it is appropriate to invite the employee to any subsequent investigatory or disciplinary hearings needs to be handled very carefully as it will depend on the individual circumstances. Usually, under employee suspension laws, the disciplinary process is placed on hold until the employee is well.
Can my employee work elsewhere after receiving a suspension of employee letter?
If they have another job in addition to working for you, there is no reason why they cannot continue with this.
However, they are expected to be available to you during their regular working hours, so it would not be appropriate for them to take up paid employment elsewhere during their contractual hours after receiving their suspension of employee letter.
Whilst suspended pending investigation, my employee asked, ‘Can you be fired while on suspension?’ They have now failed to turn up to an investigation meeting- can I stop their pay or fire them?
Suppose we assume that they have failed to attend the investigation meeting without good reason and you arranged the meeting during their regular working hours. In that case, you can suspend their pay for the time they failed to attend the meeting. It doesn’t automatically follow that you can stop their suspension pay altogether. If the employee meant ‘can you be fired while on suspension’ for not attending the meeting, then no, you can deduct payment. You can, however, get fired once the suspension from work has been served if issues are found in work performance that warrants dismissal.
Can I inform an employee’s colleagues or customers of employee suspension?
No. You still have a duty of care regarding confidentiality, so you may simply wish to say they are on leave rather than tell employees or clients about the employee suspension.
After suspending an employee, can they maintain contact with colleagues via Facebook?
It’s a tricky one, but it will depend mainly on the nature of their contact.
On the one hand, after suspending an employee, they may technically be breaching the terms of their suspension and trying to influence witnesses by contacting their colleagues. Still, as long as they are not discussing work matters, specifically the case against the suspended employee, there isn’t much you can do about this.