When it comes to misconduct, for a dismissal to be fair a disciplinary process must be followed, which includes a full and thorough investigation. How the employer has investigated the matter will be relevant to whether or not they acted reasonably.
In some cases, it may be appropriate to suspend the employee from work during the investigation. However, given the serious implications of suspension for an employee, including for their morale and professional reputation, we must ensure that the circumstances of the case justify it, and that it is necessary to ensure a fair investigation. Suspension will not be necessary in every case.
The Acas code of practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures
The Acas code of practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures states that an employer should; pay a suspended employee during the period of suspension, keep the suspension as brief as possible and keep the suspension under review. The employer should make clear that the suspension is not disciplinary action in itself.
The non-statutory guidance that accompanies the code states that suspension may be necessary, for example: where relationships have broken down;
- in cases of gross misconduct;
- where there is a risk to an employee or company property, or responsibilities to other parties; or
- in exceptional cases, where there are reasonable grounds to suspect that evidence has been tampered with or destroyed, or witnesses pressurised.
Principles of Suspension
The employee should suffer no detriment as a result of a decision to suspend, and as such, the employee should be fully paid throughout the suspension.
Any contractual procedures or terms relating to suspension must be complied with throughout.
You should not suspend an employee without justification. It is not appropriate to suspend simply because an investigation is on-going. If it is necessary to remove the employee from, for example, contact with particular colleagues or clients, you should consider if suspension can be avoided by using a less drastic measure, for example a temporary change to the employee’s duties or department.
Where the circumstances of a case justify suspension, you must advise the employee of the reason for the suspension, how long it is likely to last, and that it is a neutral act that does not indicate guilt. The employer should make clear to the employee that the suspension is not disciplinary action in itself, and that disciplinary action will not necessarily follow.
It is usual for the employer to advise the employee that they should not contact any colleagues during the suspension, except any union representative advising on the process. The employer should consider any requests by the employee to be allowed to contact colleagues if this is necessary in connection with preparing their response to the disciplinary case. In practice, an employer cannot stop an employee contacting colleagues outside of work but it should warn them that any attempt to influence colleagues involved in the investigation will be dealt with under the disciplinary process.
You should, as far as possible, keep the suspension, and the reason for it, confidential so as not to cause damage to the employee’s reputation, particularly as the investigation will not necessarily result in disciplinary action.
The length of suspension
In line with the “Acas code of practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures”, the period of suspension should be kept as brief as possible, and its continuance kept under review. The suspension should be lifted immediately if the circumstances of the case no longer justify it.
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Article last updated: 12 May 2021
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