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Tracey Moss: An employee's experience of suspension

Wednesday 20 June 2018

Tracey Moss, employment law expert at Citizens Advice, discusses the employee's perspective of suspension at work and the launch of Acas' new guidance.

Tracey Moss Tracey Moss

Tracey is an employment law expert with the Expert Advice Team at Citizens Advice, and provides second tier support on employment cases to advisers and staff in local Citizens Advice offices.

Employees facing disciplinary action frequently turn to their local Citizens Advice service for help. In 2017-2018 the service gave advice on almost 10,000 disciplinary-related matters, and a good proportion of those will have involved an employee suspended whilst an investigation takes place.

Sometimes it will clearly be necessary and appropriate to suspend an employee. However we know that suspension can have a very negative effect on an employee's wellbeing, and we hope employers will find the new Acas guidance helpful in deciding whether suspension is an appropriate action.

Employees who are suspended can face a great deal of mental anguish. Told not to come into the workplace or contact colleagues, they can feel abandoned and confused. They are usually given only a very brief explanation of the reasons for their suspension, which they feel is very unfair, and which makes it difficult for them to put their side of the story.

It is not unheard of for a suspension to last several months, particularly where there is a concurrent police investigation into an incident such as a theft from the workplace. Employers may think that suspending an employee on full pay releases them from any obligation to resolve the matter quickly or of their duty of care towards the employee, as it leads to no hardship,  but that is not our experience. The uncertainty, anger and frustration at the lack of communication from their employer, and the embarrassment or shame that employees feel at being suspended, can lead them to experience stress, anxiety and other mental health problems. We often receive queries from employees on long term suspension wanting to know how to bring the situation to an end, who are surprised to learn that there is no specific law on the matter.

 

Sometimes disciplinary proceedings will subsequently be brought against the employee, which although stressful at least moves things forward and gives the employee an opportunity to fully understand the allegations against them. In some cases though no action will be taken against the employee.  We recently helped a local office to advise a client who had been told she could return after a period of a few months' suspension which ended with no disciplinary action being taken. The employee was very reluctant to return, being unable to face the colleagues who had made allegations about her, fearing that others would assume she must have been guilty of something and feeling distrustful of managers whom she felt would be likely to 'pull her up' over every minor slip.

 

Employers seldom openly acknowledge the impact that suspension has on workplace relations and an employee's mental well-being, but doing so would be a good place to start when reintegrating an employee back into the workplace.

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