New Acas guidance on suspension

Posted on September 22nd, 2022

Acas has published new advice for employers on how to consider and handle staff suspensions at work. It includes important wellbeing considerations which employers should make during the whole of the suspension process.

The new Acas guidance states that an employer should only suspend someone if it is necessary, for example:

  • While carrying out an investigation, if it is a serious situation and there is no alternative (note that the previous guidance stated that it should be considered where there are serious allegations of misconduct).
  • Medical suspension or pregnancy suspension to protect an employee’s health and safety.

Process for suspension during an investigation

Before deciding whether to suspend someone, an employer should carefully consider whether this is appropriate.

Suspension should only be considered where the employer believes that it is needed to protect any of the following:

  • The investigation, for example if there are concerns about someone damaging evidence or influencing witnesses.
  • The business, for example if there is a genuine risk to customers, property or business interests.
  • Other staff.
  • The person being investigated.

Employers should carefully consider whether suspension is reasonable in each situation. If it is not reasonable, there is a risk that the employment contract could be broken, and this could lead to legal action. Employers should always check if there is an alternative to suspending someone.

Alternatives to suspension

Alternatives to suspension could include:

  • Working in a different office or location (for instance in a MAT this could be temporarily working in a different school).
  • Working from home.
  • Stopping part of their role.

Where possible, the reason for any temporary change should be kept confidential and employers should discuss with the employee what information is going to be given to others at work.

Arrange a meeting

If suspension has been decided, then the employer should arrange a meeting with the employee, ideally in person, to:

  • Explain the reason(s) for the suspension.
  • Explain the next steps.
  • Confirm that they will receive their usual pay and benefits.
  • Make it clear that suspension is not a presumption that they have done anything wrong.
  • Make it clear that their views will be considered before any decisions are made.
  • Explain their responsibilities during suspension.
  • Give them a copy of any relevant policy.
  • Check that the contact details for the employee are up to date, together with an emergency contact person.
  • Provide a named contact for them within the workplace.
  • Provide them with details of support available and encourage them to use it.

This should be followed up with written confirmation.

Short a time as possible

An employee should be suspended for as short a time as possible, otherwise there is a higher chance that:

  • Their health and wellbeing will be affected.
  • It will become unreasonable to keep them suspended.
  • A breakdown in trust could occur, which could break the employment contract.

The suspension should be regularly reviewed to ensure that it is still necessary and it is important for the employer to stay in touch with the employee during suspension.

Support during suspension

Suspension can be stressful for an employee, so employers should:

  • Consider the wellbeing and mental health of the individual.
  • Only suspend if there is no other option (we would advise carrying out a suspension risk assessment).
  • Plan support provision for the individual.

In some cases, being suspended could lead to a new mental health issue arising or an existing mental health issue returning or becoming worse. Employers have a legal ‘duty of care’ to support an individual during suspension and being aware of their wellbeing.

To minimize the risk of mental health issues arising or becoming worse, employers should:

  • Ensure good communication throughout the investigation process and keep in regular contact.
  • Make it clear that suspension is not a presumption that they have done something wrong.
  • Ensure that suspension is for as short a time as possible.
  • Ensure the employee has a workplace contact if they have any concerns.

Good practice

Employers should provide information to the suspended employee regarding support available and encourage them to use it. This could be through an employee assistance programme, a mental health ‘champion’ at work or their trade union.

Employers should also consider signposting outside support, for instance helplines on the Mind website, speaking to a family member or friend, and Citizens Advice.

Full Acas advice

A link to the Acas guidance can be found here.

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