New ACAS guidance on staff suspensions

A suspension is a temporary period of non-working, when an employer instructs an employee to stop working and remain away from the workplace. 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 serious issue.

Before placing an employee on suspension, employers should consider as many other options as possible. This might include temporarily assigning them 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 front-end work, or stopping them from handling cash/working on tills, if an issue relating to this has arisen).

Where changes are made to an employee’s normal terms and conditions, this should be fully explained to them. Employers should also be clear that it is a temporary situation whilst the issue is resolved; it should be viewed by all parties as a holding measure and not as a punishment.

Furthermore, 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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