When an allegation of serious misconduct comes to light, a common course of action for employers is to suspend the employee concerned while it carries out an investigation. Whilst this is often a sensible precaution, it is rarely justifiable as a punishment and should not be used as a panic measure. There is an implied contractual term governing suspension that employers must: act reasonably, have reasonable grounds for the action and ensure that the period of suspension is reasonable. Whether a suspension is reasonable or not will depend on “events as they occurred” rather than judging with hindsight.
Unjustified or excessively lengthy suspensions can lead to constructive dismissal claims. In one case, suspending an employee because of an allegation of sexual abuse was found to have been a “knee jerk” reaction. The employer should have considered other options, such as a period of leave or a move to another part of the organisation whilst it undertook a preliminary consideration of the facts.
ACAS says that suspension may be justified if it is used to preserve evidence, avoid the intimidation of witnesses, separate protagonists where work relationships have broken down, protect a victim of alleged harassment or protect an employee’s or the organisation’s property. Redeployment or working from home may be suitable alternatives that would achieve these aims and make it easier for the employee to return to work if the case against them is unfounded.