Suspending employees

Recruiting and retaining the right talent to establish an effective management team can take time for any organisation to master – especially when difficult decisions need to be made if conduct issues arise and personnel do not always turn out to be the best fit for the business.

It is those company leaders – with the correct advice from their HR team – who will be the ones called upon to make tough judgements regarding employees who have allegedly breached company policy. Why? Because they have a duty of care to the other members of staff, and the entire firm’s sustainability moving forwards.

When a company suspects that a breach by an employee has occurred, an investigation should take place in order to see if there is a case for a disciplinary hearing. However, this can take time and organisations need to consider whether there is any ongoing risk in the meantime.

Suspension often becomes a parallel issue to consider, but is clearly potentially damaging to the employee if the allegations are later considered to be unfounded.

Deciding whether to suspend someone pending a disciplinary hearing is dependent upon two factors:

  • Is there a risk they could interfere with the investigation if they are not suspended?
  • Is there a risk to the business, to colleagues or third parties if the employee continues to operate in their role?

Given the potential impact on the staff member and the firm itself, business leaders should always seek advice from their HR and legal teams regarding suspension, and be in a position to clarify these six elements from the outset:

1. Check the authenticity

Understand the nature of the issues that have been raised, and establish if there is any doubt around the genuineness of the allegations. Could the complainant be mistaken? This provides the opportunity for companies to analyse the validity of the concern, and whether suspension really is necessary before progressing it further.

2. Acknowledge the responses

What is the alleged employee saying in response to the concern raised? Can the employer categorically say that the reply is convincing, and therefore casts doubt on the original complaint?

3. Understand the consequences

It’s important for organisations to look further than the here and now, and factor in how a suspension might impact upon the employee’s future career and relationships with colleagues, if the case is not upheld. Will colleagues have the same trust in the employee going forwards? Could relationships be damaged irreparably? This can prove to be costly – so it is vital for the key decision-maker to analyse what the potential outcomes may lead to.

4. Consider other options

Now is an important time to assess what other courses of action might be appropriate – in place of a suspension, which may achieve the same aims but be less disruptive. For example, can the company look into alternative options such as close supervision, a temporary move to another department or having the staff member report to someone else during an interim period?

5. Outline the risks to the business

Not only does a company leader have to factor in the employee in question and the issue itself, they must also acknowledge the needs of their own colleagues and customers. If not suspending the worker causes more in-house disruption – for example if the allegation concerns bullying or discrimination – excluding them may prove to be the correct option in order to prevent further incidents.

6. What happens if they stay?

It is critical for an organisation to fully assess how much of an impact a staff member facing a disciplinary hearing can have, if they remain in the business. Not only might it cause repercussions for other workers, it may disturb the entire investigation. Therefore, the right call is needed from the key decision-maker, as soon as possible.

All of the above points should be well thought through and driven by legal and HR advice when the issue of suspending an employee arises. Any decisions made should also be well-documented by those in charge of the inquiry.

Allegations should always be followed up, but the decision on how to progress matters must go further in order to evaluate what the serious ramifications might be.

Furthermore, when a suspension is made, it should be confirmed in writing to the employee. Underline who has made the decision, what alternatives have been considered – and disregarded for specific reasons – and why the suspension is reasonable and necessary.

Our ‘Disciplinary Suspension Letter SL5.02’ addresses all of the above guidance. To view, visit our Customer Zone.


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Author: Lucy Gordon

Senior Solicitor, ESP Law Ltd

Lucy is an employment solicitor who brings to ESP over a decade’s experience at DLA Piper, one of the world’s most prestigious law firms. At DLA Piper, Lucy was involved in a number of global projects for major international customers and handled a varied case-load of employment matters for a range of UK customers, including complex Employment Tribunal cases involving whistleblowing and TUPE.