When should you suspend an employee during a disciplinary investigation?

Never suspend an employee like this.

Suspending an employee suspected of misconduct can have a serious impact on their reputation, so it shouldn’t be automatic in every disciplinary investigation. Sometimes though, it is inappropriate for them to remain at work while allegations are investigated. So when should you suspend an employee during a disciplinary investigation and how should you go about it?

In what circumstances is suspension appropriate?

A proper investigation into allegations of misconduct is essential before an employer decides to dismiss the employee or take other disciplinary action.

In many cases, the investigation can be carried out while the employee carries on working, perhaps with an alteration to the role to avoid contact with certain colleagues, for example. Where the allegations are of minor misconduct, suspension would be disproportionate.

Suspension would be appropriate if the allegations against the employee involve gross misconduct, where if they were upheld, the employer would be entitled to dismiss the employee without notice.

An employer would be justified in suspending the employee where there has been a breakdown in the relationship between the employer and employee, and the employer has lost trust in the employee.

How long should the suspension last?

A period of suspension should be as short as possible, while allowing the employer to carry out a reasonable investigation into the allegations of misconduct.

Keeping an employee on suspension for an unnecessarily long time could entitle the employee to claim constructive dismissal.

Should the employee be paid while suspended?

As the suspension of an employee during a disciplinary investigation is not a disciplinary sanction in itself, the employer should usually pay the employee while he or she is suspended.

An employer can suspend an employee without pay only if it has a contractual right to do so, and even then it must be careful to act reasonably and avoid a breach of contract entitling the employee to claim constructive dismissal.

Should the employee be allowed to contact colleagues during the suspension?

The employer should make clear to the employee that he or she should not attempt to influence any colleagues involved in the disciplinary proceedings, but it may be unreasonable to prevent the suspended employee from contacting colleagues at work if this is necessary for the preparation of his or her case to answer the allegations.

For more guidance on how to suspend an employee during a disciplinary investigation, including:

  • what to tell clients and colleagues, and
  • what to do at the conclusion of the disciplinary investigation,

see How to deal with suspension pending the result of a disciplinary investigation.

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