When and how should you suspend an employee?

The decision of whether or not to suspend an employee suspected of misconduct can be a difficult one for many employers. If an employer suspects an employee of serious misconduct, suspension may be an appropriate step to take but only in circumstances where the employee's presence at work would either jeopardise the fairness of the ensuing investigation or pose a potential threat to the business or other employees.

The decision to suspend should never be taken without proper thought. If you decide to suspend an employee when it is not reasonable to do so,or for longer than a period which is reasonably necessary, it could be considered a breach of the implied term of mutual trust and confidence. This could lead to the risk of constructive dismissal claim being brought by a disgruntled employee.

Suspension should never be a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction and whether it is reasonable and appropriate in the circumstances will depend on the individual facts of the case. However, you should consider the following:

  • What were the allegations and how serious are they? Noting that other factors also need to be considered before deciding on whether to suspend.
  • What are the risks if the employee was to remain in work? For example, if they are suspected of theft, could this cause a further potential loss to the business if they remained in the workplace whilst investigations are ongoing.
  • What is the risk to the investigation if the employee was to remain in their role, in the same building? Would they be in a position where they could influence witnesses; remove evidence and effectively hinder ongoing investigations?
  • How have you as an employer treated others in the past committing the same and/or similar offence? Would there be a discrimination risk? Consistency is key.
  • Consider whether there are any alternatives to suspension. For example, does their employment contract permit them to be relocated to another office or role? Most of all, it is important for employers to have conducted some preliminary investigations to establish a ‘prima facie’ case of the alleged misconduct before a decision is taken on whether or not to suspend.

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