Many employers have succumbed to a knee-jerk reaction in the heat of the moment and suspended an employee from work, especially where there have been allegations of misconduct against the employee. However, many live to regret that decision as suspension is only appropriate in limited circumstances. 

The basic rule in an alleged misconduct situation is that an employee should not be suspended unless their presence at work: 

  • is a potential threat to the business or colleagues; or 
  • might potentially result in inference with evidence and/or witnesses, meaning the employer cannot properly investigate the allegations. 

There can be other reasons where suspension from work is appropriate (for example, where a work relationship has totally broken down or where there are health and safety concerns resulting from pregnancy or medical issues) but these situations are rarer. 

Employers should also bear in the mind that suspension can potentially be in breach of contract. Whilst many employment contracts will include an express power for the employer to suspend the employee, not all do. If there is no such right written into the employment contract, there could, in some situations, be an implied right to work (for example where an employee needs to be present at work in order to maintain their public profile). Furthermore, even where there is a contractual right to suspend, care must be taken not to break the mutual trust and confidence that exists between an employer and employee in an employment relationship by unreasonably exercising this right. Otherwise, the employer may find themselves having to defend an unfair dismissal claim.

So let's consider a practical example. In the much-watched BBC drama Bodyguard Police Sergeant David Budd gets suspended from work when (spoiler alert!) his work affair with The Right Honourable Julia Montague is discovered and his boss learn of his suicide attempt. Presumably his employer would argue that his continuing presence at work could hamper their investigations and probably they would also try and justify the suspension on medical grounds due to the potential risks of him continuing to carry out Police work in his unstable state. 

Whenever an employer decides to go ahead with suspending an employee, the following points apply: 

  • Suspension should be for as short a time as possible in the circumstances;
  • The employee should, in the vast majority of cases, continue to receive their pay and benefits in the usual way throughout the period of suspension;
  • It is prudent for the employer to follow up with a written letter explaining the fact of the suspension, the reasons why and the arrangements during the suspension period; and 
  •  The employer should ensure that they regularly review the situation to check whether suspension remains appropriate.