Suspended from Work

  • Disciplinary
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Peninsula Group, HR and Health & Safety Experts

(Last updated )

Sometimes, you might need to suspend an employee as you investigate serious concerns. This might be for gross misconduct or a health and safety concern.

Whatever the reason may be, every employer needs to follow the correct process for suspensions.

If you don't, you could end up facing constructive dismissal claims, compensation fines, and business disruption.

In this guide, we'll look at what being suspended from work means, different reasons for it, and how to manage employee suspension.

What is suspension from work?

Suspension from work is when you send an employee home while they're being investigated for a serious disciplinary matter.

The employee will still remain employed at the business. But they aren't required to attend work or engage in work-related activities.

Sometimes, an employee is suspended due to a serious allegation, like gross misconduct. Other times, they might be investigated because of poor performance.

It's important to clarify that suspension from work is not a punishment. It's a temporary measure used during a disciplinary procedure. There's always an intention to end the suspension and bring employees back to work.

Reasons for suspension from work

There are several reasons why an employer would suspend an employee. The most common ones include:

  • Prevent employees from carrying out further gross misconduct.
  • Minimise potential threat to other employees or the business.
  • Investigate disciplinary allegations without interference.
  • Protect employees from health and safety risks.
  • Unable to provide safe alternative suitable work.

Let's look into two examples in more depth:

Suspension due during disciplinary procedures

If an employee is suspended from work, it's usually related to a disciplinary investigation.

An employer needs to have 'reasonable and proper cause' for suspending an employee. You might need to keep them away from the workplace as you initiate your disciplinary process.

For example, you don't want them to destroy evidence; or influence witnesses and work colleagues. Here, suspension should only be used if it's absolutely necessary.

During the whole process, employees are still entitled to their usual benefits. Such as statutory sick pay (SSP), annual leave, or full pay.

Suspension due to medical reasons

An employer may also suspend an employee based on medical grounds.

You can suspend an employee if their job poses high risks to their health and safety.

Medical grounds can include a number of things, like having a physical disability or mental health condition. If they lack the capability to work, you may have reasonable grounds for suspension. This might be for their own protection, as well as other employees.

For example, an employer has a legal duty to carry out a risk assessment for a new or expectant mother. If the assessments reveal specific risks that cannot be eliminated, you may place them on paid leave to safeguard them and their baby.

What is the law on being suspended from work?

There is no specific law on being suspended from work. However, there are relevant employment regulations and reasonable ground to comply with first.

An employer can legally suspend an employee if there’s a suspension clause in their employment contract. This must be agreed to and signed by both parties. Suspension should be documented as an express clause, not an implied term.

If you don't have a clear contractual right to suspend, you risk facing a breach of contract. The suspended employee may raise this to an employment tribunal (ET). If the claim is upheld, you could pay hefty compensation fines.

Sometimes, an employee may feel forced to resign due to suspension from work. Here, the employee's rights still stand as they raise a constructive dismissal claim based on unfair suspension.

Remember, suspension should be used with extreme caution; and only as a last resort.

How long can you suspend employees for?

There is no legal timeframe on how long you can suspend employees for.

According to Acas's Code of Practice, a suspension period should be as ‘short a time as possible’. Meaning, it should ideally stop as soon as the disciplinary investigation process ends. The employer needs try to provide an estimated timeframe on how long their suspension will be.

Sometimes, an employer may decide to end suspension earlier than planned. You need to relay this to the employee as soon as it's decided. But, if a disciplinary matter has a criminal or regulatory aspect to it, you may need to extend their suspension for longer.

Whatever the case, the employee must believe they're scheduled to return to work at a future date.

Is a suspended employee still entitled to full pay?

Yes, employees should still be paid whilst they're suspended.

You need to provide full pay throughout their whole period of suspension. This still applies even if it’s not mentioned in the employee’s contract.

Employers also cannot decrease or stop an employee's full pay. That's because, despite being on suspension, the employee continues to be employed. Denying full pay means you could be held liable for unlawful deduction of wages and constructive dismissal.

Suspended employees are also still entitled to other benefits, like statutory sick pay (SSP). You could be held legally accountable for unlawful deductions if you neglect their usual sick pay.

Employees can even request annual leave; but their employer has a right to refuse them. It's better to judge each annual leave request individually, rather than enforce an overall ban.

What should you do before you suspend an employee?

As mentioned, you should only use suspension as a last resort. It must be reasonably decided and managed with great care.

Before actioning a suspension, an employer should consider these factors:

  • Evidence: You need to have sufficient evidence relating to the allegation before suspending an employee. Think about delaying suspension until you have enough material evidence proving the serious allegation.
  • Necessity: You should decide whether suspension from work is absolutely necessary. There needs to be a clear reason behind the disciplinary action. Maybe the employee poses a serious risk or threat to other employees by staying in work.
  • Alternative work methods: You should think about whether to initiate alternative work methods instead of suspending an employee. Maybe you could move them to another department until the investigation is done.
  • Potential consequences: You need to prepare for any consequences that come with suspension. Think about whether the employee's reputation will be harmed because of the suspension.

Every employer should consider all of the above. That way, you'll be able to minimise facing legal action or a formal challenge. It'll also reduce claims like unfair dismissal or breach of contractual right.

Can you use alternative work methods instead of suspension?

Yes, every employer should try to use alternative work methods before suspending an employee. There are several examples to consider, like:

  • Change normal working hours in their employment contract.
  • Move them to different departments within the business. 
  • Ask them to work from home or at a different location.
  • Removing their access to certain work systems.
  • Don't allow them to contact work colleagues or clients.

Finding alternative suitable work will ultimately depend on specific circumstances. If these are unsuitable or don't work, suspension might be the most appropriate action to take.

Make sure you document your decision-making process throughout the suspension. That way, you'll be able to remain protected from future disputes relating to your disciplinary methods.

How to manage employee suspension in the workplace

As mentioned, suspension should be used with great caution.

By doing so, you'll be able to minimise any chance of unfair dismissals or employment contract breaches. It also helps maintain professional relations with your employees, too. Just make sure your procedures remain fair and lawful throughout.

Let's look at ways to manage an employee's suspension in the workplace:

Present a suspension letter

If you decide to suspend someone, it must be done through the proper means.

Start by presenting a suspension letter to the employee in question. It’s best to follow this up with in-person disciplinary meetings as soon as possible. This helps with presenting your decisions clearly; and allows you to address any concerns to employee has.

It's not a legal obligation to present a letter. But a written document shows how you plan to properly investigate a potential disciplinary matter.

Follow through with disciplinary procedures

An employer can only use suspensions if it's part of their organisation's disciplinary procedure.

The procedures include steps like a disciplinary investigation and hearing. You might need to invite the employee to a disciplinary hearing during their period of suspension. Make sure you inform them on whether they're still on suspension after the hearing.

Keep all details of the potential disciplinary matter private from other people. Suspension can have a detrimental effect on a person's reputation, especially if they're proven to be innocent.

Make sure you keep legal compliance

As an employer, you need to make sure all legal compliance is being followed.

Acas’s Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures states general guidance on suspension. These guidelines help ensure your disciplinary proceedings are fair and legal.

Depending on certain circumstances, you may need to involve an external third-party during suspension cases. For example, informing the police for criminal allegations; or a regulatory body for certain contract breaches.

Provide support to the suspended employee

Every employer has a legal duty when it comes to employee health and wellbeing. And this still applies when they're on suspension.

Provide them with support from start to end. Make sure they fully understand the implications of their period of suspension.

It's good business practice to maintain regular communication with them, too. Offer them referrals to support services. You should also provide them with contact details for a senior line-manager or your HR team.

Bring the suspension to an end

Once the disciplinary investigations are completed, you may have reached a result.

If no further disciplinary sanction is needed, the employer should bring the suspension to an immediate close. Hold a final meeting with the employee explaining the outcome of the investigations. You can also your final decisions in letter-form, too.

Sometimes, when the evidence is inconclusive, you might require further investigations. If an employer needs to extend their suspension, make sure announce this clearly and swiftly. Allow the employee to share queries on why they aren't allowed to return to work.

Get expert advice on suspension from work with Peninsula

Remember. suspension is not a form of disciplinary action – but you still need to take great care when using it.

If used correctly, you'll be able to safeguard your disciplinary investigation from start to end. But if you neglect the proper procedures, you could end up facing constructive dismissal claims, compensation fines, and business disruption.

Peninsula offers expert advice on suspension from work. Our HR team offers 24/7 HR employment advice which is available 365 days a year.

Want to find out more? Seek advice from one of our HR consultants. For further support, call our telephone number 0800 029 4379

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