Acas updates advice on suspension from work
Steve Hodder, B3sixty Director and former Acas National Conciliator reports on the latest guidance issued by Acas (the Advisory, Conciliation & Arbitration Service) on suspending employees from work http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=6548
This guidance provides a helpful reminder that suspension should not be an automatic response when dealing with potential disciplinary cases as most instances will not require suspension. Suspension should only be considered if there is a serious allegation of misconduct and where working relationships have severely broken down; the employee could hinder the investigation; there is a risk to other employees, property or customers; or, the employee is the subject of criminal proceedings which may affect whether they can do their job. Acas suggests possible alternatives to suspension, such as temporary transfer, and states that only if all other options are not practical, may a suspension become necessary.
The advice gives practical advice on how suspensions should be handled: it notes that suspension can have a damaging effect on the employee and their reputation and, for this reason, if a suspension is necessary, the suspension and the reason for it should be kept confidential. Acas also highlights other situations where suspension from work may be necessary, namely suspension on medical grounds and where there is a risk to new or expectant mothers.
In addition to this updated advice from Acas, it is widely accepted as good practice that that employees should not be suspended for any longer than is absolutely necessary. Any period of suspension should be reasonable and kept as brief as possible (certainly no more than 26 weeks). Furthermore, any suspension from work should be kept under constant review. The employee should be given a point of a contact and regular communications with them maintained. Failure to do so could lead to a breakdown in trust and confidence and render any subsequent dismissal unfair.
Acas advice does not explore, as it might have done, recent case law on suspension, particularly as regards a ‘professional’ employee. In Agoreyo v London Borough of Lambeth  EWHC 2019 (QB), the High Court found that the suspension of a teacher was not a neutral act as had been claimed by the employer. The High Court highlighted the employers’ failure to establish the employee’s version of events, or their responses to the allegations, prior to the suspension; the lack of consideration given to alternatives to immediate suspension; and that the suspension letter did not explain why the suspension was necessary in order for the investigation to be conducted fairly.