Acas publishes new guidance on managing disciplinary suspension.
Suspending an employee pending a disciplinary investigation is a process which requires careful thought at the outset and proactive management to minimise risks to the employer and employee.
For detail on the important considerations for employers before taking a decision to suspend, see our Wrigleys Essential Employment Guide on this topic from November 2021 (available on our website).
Acas has recently published updated guidance for employers on suspension. This is available at https://www.acas.org.uk/suspension-during-an-investigation. The guidance highlights the risks arising from suspension when it is not necessitated by the circumstances. It also emphasises the importance of considering alternatives to suspension which will help to lower risks while protecting the integrity of the investigation and the wellbeing of colleagues. Alternatives to suspension might include changing the times and place of work, adjusting the type of work which is carried out, or controlling those with whom the employee comes into contact.
The updated Acas guidance reminds employers that suspension can trigger or worsen existing mental health issues for the employee under investigation. The guidance also makes the point that suspended employees are likely to be less visible to managers than usual and that mental health issues during this time away from work can be missed or underestimated. It is therefore important to be proactive and to signpost sources of support in letters, emails and calls to the employee.
It provides useful suggestions for supporting employees' mental health while they are suspended. These include:
- clear communication with the employee at the outset so they are aware of why they are suspended and what this means for their pay and benefits;
- regular updates on what is happening in the disciplinary process and the likely timescales involved;
- making sure the suspension only lasts for as long as it needs to;
- providing a point of contact for the employee if they have any concerns;
- signposting the employee to support within the organisation, such as an employee assistance programme, mental health champion or trade union, and encouraging them to access it; and
- signposting the employee to external support such as a mental health helpline, Citizens Advice, or the Acas helpline.
Employers continue to have a duty of care to employees who are suspended and they may face personal injury or negligence claims where it is alleged that poor treatment in relation to suspension has led to psychiatric damage. Tribunals considering unfair dismissal claims may be asked to consider whether the employer acted reasonably in relation to the suspension decision and the employer's treatment of the employee during suspension. Having a clear paper-trail showing careful thought around the decision to suspend, clear communication of reasons for suspension, and meaningful support during suspension will assist an employer to defend such claims.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.