A recent Court of Appeal case revisits the responsibility placed on employers to ensure that suspension is appropriate in the circumstances, and again warns against knee jerk reactions in this regard.
In cases of alleged gross misconduct, employers generally suspend as a matter of course. However, in Crawford v Suffolk Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust, the Trust’s decision to suspend was criticised as being heavy handed in the circumstances, notwithstanding the fact that the allegations – which related to the care of a patient – were considered sufficiently serious to warrant notification to the police.
In its decision, the Court of Appeal made reference to the employer’s necessary consideration of its duties to long-serving staff in the context of trust and confidence.
The key points that arise from this case and others like it are that employers should view the act of suspension as a last resort which should only be undertaken where there is a reasonable belief that…
- the employee might deliberately cause damage or create problems if allowed to remain in the workplace;
- there is a risk to an employee, company property or third parties (e.g. cash losses or violence);
- it is not possible to properly investigate the allegations if the employee remains at work;
- the employee’s continuing presence at work might prejudice the investigation in some way;
- there are reasonable grounds to suspect evidence has been / may be tampered with, or destroyed;
- there are reasonable grounds to suspect witnesses have been / may be pressurised.
If there is little or no cause for concern in relation to the above points, there may be no need to suspend and alternative actions such as temporary redeployment should be considered.
Even where the decision to suspend has been taken, employers should…
- minimise the period of suspension and regularly review whether its continuance is necessary;
- be mindful of damaging the employee’s reputation by treating the matter confidentially insofar as is reasonably practicable in the circumstances;
- keep the employee updated on the progress of investigation.
At Employee Management Ltd, our HR specialists provide employment law services and HR consultancy that can actively reduce your exposure to employment tribunals. If you are an employer that is currently wrestling with the issue of whether to suspend an employee, please feel free to contact us for a confidential, no-obligation discussion.