New ACAS guidance on staff suspensions

Peninsula Blog

October 13 2022

The new guidance recommends employers give more thought to other ways of protecting the business before taking the significant step of suspending someone.

A period of suspension is a temporary period when the employee does no work. It is usually reserved for rare circumstances, such as when there is an ongoing investigation and it is necessary to remove the employee from the workplace to complete the process fairly; or, if a medical or pregnancy suspension is appropriate to protect an employee’s health and safety.

However, as outlined in new guidance released by Acas, suspension should only be used as a last resort, after exploring all possible alternatives. It must not be a knee-jerk reaction to a situation, but instead a carefully thought-out solution in response to a serious issue.

Kate Palmer, Peninsula’s HR Advice and Consultancy Director, commented “Considering alternative options before suspending someone isn’t a new concept; suspension can be a tricky measure to navigate correctly. This guidance from Acas isn’t saying that suspension isn’t possible. It remains a measure that will, in some circumstances, be reasonable but we expect to see the number of suspensions decrease. What it does say is that employers should consider whether another step can have the same effect as sending someone home and if it can, then that’s what should happen”.

Employers should consider each situation carefully before deciding whether to suspend someone and it is usually best to only use suspension in serious circumstances where there are no alternatives. Alternatives might include temporarily assigning the employee to different duties or relocating them to a different department; changing their shift pattern or amending start/finish times; enabling them to work from home; removing specific elements of their normal duties and responsibilities (e.g. have them focus on back-office functions instead of customer facing work, or stopping them from handling cash/working on tills, if an issue relating to this has arisen).

It’s important employees are aware that a suspension or change of working conditions does not mean that a decision has been pre-made about their situation. This is particularly crucial where there is an ongoing conduct investigation, as employees may be able to raise claims for unfair and/or constructive dismissal, if they feel the disciplinary process was prejudice or predetermined.

Being placed on suspension can cause an employee stress and upset, so employers should take into account their mental health and emotional wellbeing, then plan what support they’ll provide to the person who has been suspended. This may be as simple as agreeing the method and frequency for checking-in on the employee and updating them of any news.

Unless there is a contractual provision which says otherwise (this will be rare), employees should maintain their full pay whilst placed on suspension. Since employers will have to continue paying the employee’s normal salary despite them not doing any work, it is in everyone’s best interests to keep the period of suspension to a minimum.

If an employee does not agree with their suspension, they should be given the opportunity to raise a grievance and have their concerns fully investigated. Exhausting all other options and ensuring clear communication throughout can help avoid such situations arising. But employees should be confident that all worries will be taken seriously and that a fair process will always be followed.

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