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I have been suspended from work while investigations into alleged misconduct are taking place. What should I do?
Often disciplinary procedures will contain a provision enabling the employer to suspend an individual, with pay, while an investigation takes place into allegations of misconduct. However, employers should not suspend you without considering and discussing the alternatives with you. Also, any period of suspension should be for the minimum period possible, and should be kept under review.
All too often, suspension is a knee-jerk response, carried out in a humiliating way. Where this happens, the employer is at risk of breaching the implied contractual duty of trust and confidence. Depending on the circumstances - for example, if the employer reacts more harshly to workers of a particular race or religion than towards others suspected of the same kind of offence - their actions may amount to discrimination.
A poorly managed suspension can lead to psychiatric harm. Make sure you access whatever support is available. Speak to your rep but also visit your GP if you feel anxious or distressed. Your employer may also offer counselling services. Keep a journal record in case you later decide to bring a legal claim.
Where the disciplinary procedure is contractual, an employer that fails to follow rules in the procedure governing suspensions – for example, rules about access to colleagues or designed to prevent deskilling – will be in breach of the employment contract.
Suspension is not the same as disciplinary action, and the Acas Code expects this to be spelled out to the employee. Even so, there is always stigma attached and the courts have made it clear that suspension is not a 'neutral act'.
If you have not already done so, you should contact a representative who might accompany you to any subsequent disciplinary interview and discuss the situation.
Before attending any subsequent disciplinary, make sure you're given full information about the allegations against you and any evidence on which your employer might be relying.
Being suspended can make it hard to collect evidence. It is likely to be unreasonable for your employer to ban you from contacting colleagues to ask them to give evidence to support you, unless you have been suspended for bullying or harassment of colleagues. You should ask your rep to point out in writing the problems you are having in preparing your case.