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To suspend or not to suspend?

In September, ACAS published advice on suspending staff. Although it lacks legal status, those you suspend may refer to it. Your policy may describe suspending as a neutral action but if today you heard that I had been suspended what would you think? 'That's just a neutral action by Watershed' or 'I wonder what he did?'

If you suspend unreasonably, or for too long, your employee may resign and claim that you have constructively unfairly dismissed them if they have sufficient service. Even if they stay, they may not forgive and they certainly will not forget if you've got it wrong. They may raise a grievance or simply stop trusting you.

Suspension can leave a stain, so it deserves careful thought.

So, what should you do?

Seriousness

Assess the gravity of the allegations. Consider speaking to your accused employee, talking to any witnesses, or starting a preliminary investigation before deciding how to act. Gather sufficient information so that you can make an informed decision

Context

Think about the employee's role, length of service, and disciplinary record. Recognise the potential ramifications of suspending your employee, particularly if they rely on working continuously to maintain their skills or earnings such as bonuses or commission. Consult any other stakeholders such as the police or regulatory bodies as appropriate.

Compare

Balance the merits of suspending or not by identifying the likelihood of your employee influencing or intimidating witnesses, or concealing or damaging evidence. Consider the security of your confidential information, your property, and your reputation if the alleged misconduct was repeated. You may need to suspend your employee to protect them from further allegations.

Alternatives

Examine alternatives to suspension, such as changing shift patterns, work locations, duties or reporting lines; or restricting customer contact or systems access.

Consistency

You may have dealt with similar situations in the past or your policy may describe how you will act. However, history is not a straitjacket. No two situations are identical, and your policy may describe how you will normally respond. If you have good cause to depart from precedent, then do so.

Writing

You should write to your employee to explain why it is appropriate to suspend them, why you have rejected alternative measures and the terms of their suspension.

Communicate

You should suspend your employee for no longer than you need to. Review their suspension regularly and tell them what you are doing and why. Your employee may feel anxious so you should aim to safeguard their mental health as far as you are able. Provide a point of contact if they have questions and point them to your Employee Assistance Programme, counselling helplines or similar. Don't forget to agree on how you will explain their absence. A neutral message such as 'personal leave' may explain the lack of notice and discourage further questions.

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