When should an employee be suspended? – You would have to have been hiding under a dark blue Lexus LFA not to have heard or read about Jeremy Clarkson’s suspension by the BBC. Apparently, he was suspended for being involved in a “fracas”.
So what is a “fracas” and can an employer properly suspend an employee for being in one?
The decision of whether or not to suspend an employee suspected of misconduct can be a difficult matter for employers. By suspending employees, employers can buy valuable time to allow an investigation to take place. However, they also run the risk of being accused of prejudging the outcome of any subsequent disciplinary process.
Suspending an employee sends a clear message to all employees that matters are being taken seriously. Even so, it is important that the suspension is for no longer than is necessary.
Unfortunately neither the BBC nor Mr Clarkson have instructed me to act so I can’t say what is contained within the employment contract or staff handbook (if they exist) but generally there are good and bad reasons for suspending an employee.
Good reasons for suspending an employee
In some cases, it will be appropriate to suspend an employee while an investigation is carried out into allegations of misconduct. This is particularly so where those allegations are serious. Examples of where suspension would be reasonable would include where:
- there is a potential threat to the business or other employees, or
- It is not possible to properly investigate the allegation if an employee remains at work (for example because they may destroy evidence or attempt to influence or assault witnesses).
It may also be appropriate where relationships at work have broken down.
Bad reasons for suspending an employee
Suspending an employee has consequences and should generally be avoided as a knee jerk reaction. Suspension should be avoided:
- if, the employer has failed to consider options other than suspension;
- for unfair, spiteful of vindictive reasons.
If the allegations are of potential gross misconduct then suspension is more likely to be reasonable. If the employee is not suspended it could look as though the employer did not consider the incident to be serious enough to constitute gross misconduct. In such cases, the employer may find it difficult to justify summary dismissal at a later point in time.
Suspension should not be seen by the employer at this stage as some form of punishment. Rather, suspension should be a means of carrying out an investigation unhindered as quickly as possible.
The employee will often view the suspension as a punishment. Unless handled carefully an employee might be forgiven for that the outcome of a disciplinary hearing is a forgone conclusion.
What do I tell the Employee?
Obviously, an employee must be informed that they are suspended. All conversations should be followed up in writing immediately. A letter to an employee should contain some or all of the following:-
A statement making it clear that the employee is suspended;
- The reasons for this;
- The anticipated length of suspension;
- An explanation of the employee’s rights and obligations during the suspension;
- An explanation that the employee is not to report to work and must not contact colleagues or clients; and
- A point of contact for the suspended employee; and
- A reminder that the suspension is not in itself a disciplinary sanction.
Where employees are suspended there is often scope for office gossip to run wild. In the case of Mr Clarkson the global media has decided to share its views. With that in mind, employers may wish to prepare a brief statement in preparation for being asked why a particular member of staff is suspended. It goes without saying that the shorter the period of suspension, the less time for gossip to take place.
Not wishing to be cynical but I would wonder if the BBC are rather enjoying the added publicity for what remains of the current series of Top Gear.
Should you, or your business, be in the process of considering disciplinary action against an employee please contact Graham Laughton who will be able to advise you accordingly.