HR Expert: To suspend or not: ACAS guidance helps employers to answer this question
Yesterday, a serious incident occurred at my client’s premises, and they suspect a particular employee was at the centre of what went on. They are trying to decide whether or not they need to suspend the employee. What can I tell them to be mindful of when making this decision?

When a serious situation occurs at work, employers must act swiftly and do what they can to protect the business, their other employers and the individual involved. To help with this, ACAS has recently published new guidance on suspension, making it clear that it most only be done as a last resort, in the most serious of cases, and where no alternatives are available.

What the guidance says

Suspension is a temporary option that should be kept as short as possible. This period of not working is usually reserved for cases where there is an ongoing investigation and it is necessary to remove the employee from the workplace to properly investigate.

Suspension must not be a knee-jerk reaction, but instead a carefully thought-out solution in response to a serious risk that cannot be avoided by any other means. Should your client decide to suspend, they must plan what and how support will be provided to the individual, as being placed on suspension can cause an employee stress and upset. This may be as simple as agreeing the method and frequency for checking-in and updating them.

Alternative solutions

Alternatives might include:

  • temporarily assigning the employee to different duties or to a different department;
  • changing their shift pattern or amending start/finish times;
  • homeworking;
  • removing specific elements of their normal duties and responsibilities (e.g. have them focus on back-office functions instead of customer facing work, or stopping them from handling cash/working on tills, if the issues relates to these);
  • stop using a specific system or tool – for example removing access to the organisation’s finance system if they’re investigating a large amount of missing money.

Whatever steps your client takes, they must take care to explain this to the affected employee, and the reasons why. They should also be clear that it is a temporary situation whilst the issue is resolved, and not punitive. Your client will also need to record this discussion in some way, to ensure their reasoning is preserved should matters turn sour and a tribunal claim be brought.

When to consider suspension

According to the guidance, suspension may be necessary to protect the following:

  • the investigation – for example if there is a concern about someone damaging evidence or influencing witnesses
  • the business – for example if there’s a genuine risk to customers, property or business interests
  • other staff
  • the person under investigation

 Deciding when to suspend

To summarise, before making the final decision, your client will need to consider:

  • what has been found so far
  • the wellbeing of the person under investigation, and the impact suspension might have
  • the risks of not suspending the employee
  • how serious those risks are
  • alternatives to suspension

A final note

Unless the contract says otherwise (which is rare), the employee should be paid in full whilst placed on suspension; for that reason and others, it is in everyone’s best interests to keep the suspension to a minimum.


Please share this article with your clients

Our team of expert consultants have a wealth of experience and can also provide a written consultancy service to support your practice, like having your very own tax and VAT department.

Why not see what My VIP Tax Team can do for your practice, call 0800 231 5199 or to find out more

Back to Community
HR Expert: Christmas Parties: Is it time for a re-think?
HR Expert: Employee monitoring: What can we do?
HR Expert: Ways to manage staff during the World Cup