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Why, When and How Should You Suspend an Employee?

By Caitlin Mazur - Nov. 28, 2022
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As exciting as it is to hire and manage employees, it unfortunately also means you have to make some hard decisions. Whether your employee has been accused of gross misconduct or is struggling with a health challenge that becomes dangerous at work, suspensions are common issues employers have to deal with.

In this article, we’ll go over what a suspension is, why you might need to suspend an employee, and how to go about suspending them. We’ll also share some alternatives to suspension that you may be able to employ.

Key Takeaways

  • Suspended employees are still employed but aren’t allowed to do any work.

  • Reasons why you’d need to suspend an employee include an allegation of gross misconduct or a medical or health concern that risks their safety at work.

  • Consider alternatives such as working from home before deciding to suspend an employee.

Why, When and How Should You Suspend an Employee?

What It Means to Suspend an Employee

If you suspect your employee of unacceptable behavior, you may find it appropriate to temporarily suspend them from work while you carry out an investigation.

This means your employee still works for you but isn’t allowed to go to their place of work or engage in any work for you from home.

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Why You Would Suspend an Employee

There are three main reasons why you might suspend an employee from work.

These are:

  • An allegation of gross misconduct

  • Medical grounds

  • Workplace risk to an expectant mother

The most common reason for suspending an employee is an allegation of gross misconduct.

What Is Gross Misconduct?

Gross misconduct in the workplace is unacceptable or improper behavior of a serious kind. You can fire someone on the spot for gross misconduct, so allegations that gross misconduct has occurred are serious.

Most employers would consider the following to be examples of gross misconduct:

  • Intoxication (alcohol or drugs)

  • Fighting or physical abuse

  • Indecent or lewd behavior

  • Theft

  • Fraud

  • Sabotage

  • Offensive behavior such as sexism, harassment, discrimination, bullying, or any form of abuse

  • Serious negligence

  • Gross insubordination

When You Would Suspend an Employee

More often than not, an issue of gross misconduct isn’t black and white, so when allegations arise against an employee, it’s essential that employers not act too hastily.

If you fired someone for allegations of gross misconduct and they subsequently sue you for wrongful termination, the cost to your business could be huge.

To avoid this, companies conduct investigations when these allegations arise. During the investigation, if keeping the employee in question at the workplace can endanger others or impede the investigation, they’re often suspended.

However, this should only occur after you’ve considered the following questions:

  • Is there an alternative to suspension? Would allowing the employee to work from home or limiting their access to a particular facility have the same effect as a suspension without damaging their reputation?

  • Does their employment contract have a provision for you to suspend them? If it doesn’t and you suspend them anyway, you could be creating even more problems than you’d be solving.

  • How will the suspension impact the employee? Even if they’re later proved innocent, a suspension can have a long-lasting negative impact on the employee’s reputation.

If the decision is made to not suspend an employee while an investigation is carried out, then that decision should regularly be reviewed throughout the investigation process. If further information comes to light to indicate gross misconduct, the employee can still be suspended at that time.

This is often the preferred method of suspension, as it is far easier to do this than to suspend an employee at the beginning and bring them back to work partway through an investigation.

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What Is the Process for Suspending an Employee?

  1. Set Behavioral Expectations

    Before you employ staff you should set up a staff handbook, which includes written rules and procedures about employee performance and conduct. Explain what you mean by acceptable and unacceptable behavior in the workplace. Getting expectations clear from the outset is vital.

  2. Consult Any Applicable Laws

    Consult with your HR department and any applicable union or other rules, guidelines, and laws before you suspend someone. This bit of additional homework will go a long way toward protecting you and your company from costly lawsuits.

  3. Make a Plan

    Before you talk to the employee you’re suspending, you need to establish:

    • How long the suspension will last.

    • Who the employee’s point of contact will be during the suspension or how they’ll be updated if something changes.

  4. Notify the Employee

    Meet with the employee to communicate all of the details of their suspension with them. It’s best to put it all in writing as well so that you have a permanent record and can minimize miscommunication and confusion.

    In addition to how long their suspension will be and what the next steps are, explain:

    • Why you’re suspending them.

    • That the situation is confidential.

    • What the rest of their colleagues will be told about the situation.

    • What they are not allowed to access.

    • Who they are and are not allowed to contact.

    • Any expectations about being available to answer questions about the investigation or the work tasks that others will be covering.

    • That they’re still an employee and need to comply with company policies.

    • That they will still be paid.

    • That they are not necessarily guilty and they will have the opportunity to share their side of the story.

  5. Put Any Security Measures in Place

    If the employee isn’t allowed to access company buildings or networks during their suspension, you’ll need to make sure their keycards are turned in and that their remote access to company servers is temporarily removed.

  6. Work to End the Suspension as Quickly as Possible

    Continue with the investigation so that you can end the employee’s suspension as quickly as possible.

    When you do notify the employee that their suspension has ended, reassure them that it won’t affect their future at the company, tell them you want to hear any questions and concerns, and do whatever you can to make their transition back as smooth as possible.

    In addition, establish an explanation you both will give to other employees to explain their absence while keeping the suspension confidential. This can be as simple as saying they were gone for “personal reasons.”

Alternatives to Suspension

Suspending an employee should always be a last resort and should never be a knee-jerk reaction. Always seek advice before considering a suspension and only carry it out if there are no other alternatives.

These alternatives could include:

  • Moving the employee to another role or location.

  • Requiring the employee to work from home.

  • Limiting the employee’s access to certain company information or operations.

Suspending an employee always needs to be justified, so make sure you have thought through every option before moving forward.

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Employee Suspension FAQ

  1. How long can you suspend an employee for?

    You can suspend an employee for up to 26 weeks.

If you are suspending someone because the job they’re doing is posing a risk to their health, the suspension period can last up to 26 weeks (as long as your employee has been employed for at least one month).

If you are suspending an employee while you carry out an investigation into a disciplinary matter, the suspension should be kept as short as possible. You should also regularly review whether the suspension remains necessary.

You will need to regularly update your employee about their suspension and how long it will last. Keeping an employee suspended unnecessarily could result in the employee claiming constructive dismissal.

  • Do you have to pay a suspended employee?

    Yes, you have to pay a suspended employee.

  • A suspended employee remains in your employment even though they aren’t allowed to come to the office or do any work. In most circumstances, the employee should be paid in full and receive the same benefits during their suspension.

    An employee can only be suspended without pay if there is a clear contractual right to suspend without pay or benefits, or if they are not willing or able to attend work (for example, if they are ill).

    Just make sure you’ve double- and triple-checked with your company’s HR and legal departments before suspending someone without pay.

  • Can a suspended employee have contact with colleagues?

    No, a suspended employee can’t have contact with most colleagues.

  • This is especially true if their colleagues are involved in the investigation, as the employee could try to influence their decisions or statements.

    However, there are times when employees can and should have contact with colleagues, such as when someone is updating them on their suspension status, asking them for statements for the investigation, or needing information about covering their job responsibilities.

    Just make it clear what the expectations are in this area when you initially explain the employee’s suspension to them.


    Caitlin Mazur

    Caitlin Mazur is a freelance writer at Zippia where she has written 140+ articles that have reached over 275K viewers as of July 2021. Caitlin is passionate about helping Zippia’s readers land the jobs of their dreams by offering content that discusses job-seeking advice based on experience and extensive research. Caitlin has also written content for clients in recruitment, software technology, pharma and healthcare, and real estate. Her work has appeared in healthcare trade magazines including PharmaVoice, PM360, and HS&M. She has also held field, product, and content marketing positions at a variety of B2B organizations, including Veeva Systems, a SaaS organization ranked as one of the world’s fastest growing companies by Fortune, three years in a row. In addition to freelance writing, Caitlin also works as a young adult author whose works include "The Migrator Series," "The Arodazac Sisters," and various short stories. She co-founded a Facebook writing community with over 12k members, named one of Reedsy's 50 Best Places to Find a Critique Circle. Caitlin holds a degree in English from Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, PA.

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