Suspension is where an employee continues to be employed but does not have to attend work or do any work.
An employer should usually only consider suspension from work if there is:
- a serious allegation of misconduct
- medical grounds to suspend
- a workplace risk to an employee who is a new or expectant mother.
Suspension should not be used as a disciplinary sanction. If an employee is suspended, it does not mean they have done something wrong or that their employer assumes they have done something wrong.
Employment Contract and Relevant Policy
Always check to see what these documents say about suspension.
A well drafted contract of employment will provide for suspension, however, good justification for suspension is still necessary (otherwise there will be a breach of trust and confidence and the employee may claim constructive dismissal).
The Relevant Policy may make some special provisions regarding how and when employees can be suspended.
Suspension as part of a disciplinary procedure
Suspension should never be an automatic approach for an employer when dealing with a potential disciplinary matter.
Most disciplinary procedures will not require suspension. An employee will usually be able to continue doing their normal role while the matter is investigated.
Suspension should usually only be considered if:
- there is a serious allegation of misconduct, and one of the following
- a real risk that the employees presence will damage business interests
- 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 the subject of criminal proceedings which may affect whether they can do their job
The employer’s reasons for deciding to suspend should be recorded in a file note.
Alternatives to a suspension as part of a disciplinary procedure
Alternatives to suspension should always be considered. These could include such things as:
- the employee temporarily: being moved to a different area of the workplace
- working from home
- changing their working hours
- being placed on restricted duties
- working under supervision
- being transferred to a different role within the organisation (the role should be of a similar status to their normal role, and with the same terms and conditions of employment).
Only if all other options are not practical, may suspension become necessary.
Additional considerations when suspending as part of a disciplinary procedure
There should be no assumption of guilt associated with a suspension and suspension must not be used as a disciplinary sanction.
However, a suspension can still have a damaging effect on the employee and their reputation. Therefore, if a suspension is necessary, the suspension and the reason for it should be kept confidential.
If it is necessary to explain the employee’s absence, an employer should discuss with the employee how they would like it to be explained to colleagues and/or customers. If possible agree what will be said, for example ‘
‘ … is taking some special leave and should not be contacted until further notice’.
Decide whether it is necessary to do any of the following (and if it is, keep a file note of why):
- escort the employee from the workplace
- remove the employee’s workplace pass
- remove IT access
- ask the employee to not contact other employees during the investigation
Suspension on medical grounds
An employer has a duty to ensure the health and safety of its employees. In certain circumstances, a health professional may recommend that an individual worker is unfit to work with a particular hazard.
If the hazard cannot be immediately removed, the employer should consider: temporarily adjusting working conditions offering suitable alternative work (at the same rate of pay and on terms no less favourable than the original role).
If it is not feasible to make such adjustments, the employer may have to suspend the worker until it is safe for them to return to work. For more information, go to www.hse.gov.uk.
Suspension due to a risk to new or expectant mothers
An employer must consider any specific workplace risks in their general risk assessment for an employee who:
- is of childbearing age
- is pregnant
- has given birth in the last six months is breastfeeding.
- Common risks include:
- heavy lifting or carrying
- standing or sitting for long periods without adequate breaks
- exposure to toxic substances
- long working hours.
An employer told in writing of an employee’s pregnancy, must consider their general risk assessment taking into account any advice the employee has received from their doctor or midwife.
If the risk cannot be removed, the employer must:
- temporarily adjust working conditions and/or working hours, and if that is not possible
- offer suitable alternative work (at the same rate of pay and on terms no less favourable than the original role) and if that is not feasible
- suspend the employee from work on paid leave until their maternity leave begins or it is safe for them to return to work.
The employee must be provided with the outcome of the risk assessment and the reason why the risk could not be removed.
For more information about the protection of new and expectant mothers who work, go to www.hse.gov.uk.
How should an employee be suspended?
If suspension is necessary, an employee should be provided with a suspension letter that includes:
- the reasons for the suspension
- how long it is expected to last
- who will be their point of contact
- their rights and obligations during the suspension
Pay during a suspension
Employees should usually receive their full pay and benefits during a period of suspension.
An employee suspended due to a serious allegation of misconduct must receive their full pay unless:
- they are not willing or are able to attend work (for example because they are ill)
- there is a clear contractual right for an employer to suspend without pay or benefits.
However, an employer should seek advice if they are considering suspension without pay. Unpaid suspension is more likely to be viewed as a punishment and could lead to accusations that the disciplinary procedure was not fair.
An employee suspended from work on medical grounds must receive their full pay unless they:
- have been employed for less than one month
- are not willing or able to attend work (for example because they are ill)
- have unreasonably refused suitable alternative work
- have been suspended for more than 26 weeks.
An employee suspended on maternity grounds must receive their full pay unless they either:
- are not willing or able to attend work (for example because they are ill)
- have unreasonably refused suitable alternative work.
If a suspended employee advises they are ill and would not be able to attend work if required, they should receive their usual sick pay.
Like any other employee, if it lasts longer than 7 days a fit note must be provided.
How long should a suspension last?
A period of suspension should be kept as brief as possible and regularly reviewed to ensure it is still necessary.
A suspended employee will usually still be expected to be contactable during normal working hours and available to attend any meetings and/or interviews that are necessary concerning the investigation.
If the employee wants to go on holiday during their suspension, they must still make a request to take annual leave.
Communication during a suspension
An employee should be kept regularly updated about their suspension, the ongoing reasons for it, and how much longer it is likely to last.
Regular contact should be maintained between the employee and their manager and/or point of contact during the suspension.
It is important that the employee is supported during this time and is able to contact someone at the workplace to discuss any concerns they may have.
As part of a disciplinary procedure, an employee may be asked to not communicate with other staff while they are suspended. An employer should highlight that the employee still has a right to be accompanied by a trade union rep or work colleague at any disciplinary hearings.
If an employee wants a work colleague to accompany them at a disciplinary hearing and/or be a witness in their defence, they should:
- write to their employer and seek permission to contact the individual
- explain why contact is necessary during their suspension
- wait for confirmation from the employer that they are allowed to contact the individual.
Only in exceptional circumstances should an employer consider refusing a request. For example, where the work colleague is in genuine fear of the suspended employee.
Ending a suspension
Once a suspension comes to an end, the employee should return to work immediately.
An employee may sometimes feel aggrieved about the suspension and/or worried about returning to work. Therefore, an employer should arrange a return-to-work meeting on the employee’s first day back, or as early as possible.
Options if an employee believes their suspension has not been handled fairly
An employee with concerns about how their suspension has been handled should try to resolve the matter informally first.
Many issues can be resolved quickly by having an informal conversation with a manager or HR.
If the matter cannot be resolved informally, an employee could make a formal complaint (sometimes called a grievance).