Acas has published new guidance on staff suspensions, specifically in the context of disciplinary or grievance investigations. The guidance provides advice on a range of considerations for employers when deciding whether or not to suspend an employee, the suspension process, pay and holiday considerations as well as supporting an employee’s mental health and wellbeing during the suspension period. In this article, we discuss the key points of the guidance and the issues all employers should consider when faced with the decision of whether or not to suspend an employee.
Careful consideration should be given on a case-by-case basis when deciding whether to suspend an employee. Suspension can often have a negative impact on an individual’s mental health and wellbeing and should therefore only be used in serious circumstances where there are no alternatives. An employer should never use suspension to discipline an individual and should consider whether imposing a suspension is the most reasonable way of dealing with the situation.
Alternatives to suspension
Suspension should only be used where there is a potential threat to the business or employees, or where it is not possible to carry out an investigation whilst the employee remains at work. Alternative options to suspension should always be considered before making a decision to suspend, including temporary changes to shift patterns, requiring the employee to work from home or making a temporary change to the employee’s role such as altering responsibilities or moving to a different department. The reason for any temporary change should be kept confidential wherever possible and consideration should be given to what other members of staff will be told.
If a situation arises whereby an employer must decide between moving two people, the decision should only be made after careful consideration of all the circumstances. The ACAS guidance provides that where an employee has made a serious complaint against someone they work closely with, the complainant should not be moved as this could be seen as a punishment for making a complaint.
Process for suspending
Communicating the decision
If an employer decides that suspension is the only appropriate response, the employer should meet with the employee in person to explain the reason for the decision as soon as possible. The employer should make it clear that the decision to suspend is a neutral act and does not mean it has been decided that the employee has done anything wrong. The employer should also answer any questions the employee may have and set out what the next steps will be, including informing the employee that they will continue to receive full pay and benefits as well as outlining what they can and cannot do during the period of suspension. The employer should also detail what support is available to the employee during the suspension.
Whilst there is no legal requirement to give written notice of suspension, it is often sensible to follow up the meeting with a letter to avoid any misunderstandings and a disciplinary policy may require this in any event.
The employer should maintain contact with the employee throughout the period of suspension to update them on the investigation’s progress and to support their wellbeing. The employer should make sure the employee knows who they can contact should they have any concerns.
Duration of suspension
An employee should remain suspended for the shortest time possible. Long periods of suspension are likely to have a negative impact on the employee’s health and wellbeing and lead to a breakdown in trust. The suspension should be reviewed on a regular basis to ensure it is still necessary.
When the investigation ends
Where an employer decides that no further action is required, the employer should be invited back to work as soon as possible. The employer should agree a return date and support the employee’s return to work by answering any questions or concerns the employee may have and advising what support is available.
If the investigation leads to a disciplinary procedure, the employer will have to decide whether it is necessary for the suspension to continue throughout the duration of the disciplinary.
For further information relating to the above, please contact a member of our Employment Team.