When should you suspend an employee?

If you think you have a situation with an employee that calls for a suspension, do you know your legal obligations and their rights? Do you know when you should consider suspending an employee?

A suspension should not be used as a disciplinary sanction, but may be used in a disciplinary procedure if absolutely necessary, or if there are risks to an employee’s health.

What is a suspension?

A suspension is when an employee continues to be employed by your business but does not have to attend or undertake any work. You should usually only consider suspension from work if there is:

  • a serious allegation of misconduct
  • medical grounds to suspend
  • a workplace risk to an employee who is a new or expectant mother.

Suspension as a result of misconduct

You shouldn’t use suspension as part of a disciplinary procedure unless it is absolutely necessary. Most disciplinary procedures will not require suspension, as an employee should be able to continue doing their normal role while you investigate the matter.

However, as Acas states, you can consider suspension if there is a serious allegation of misconduct and:

  • working relationships have severely broken down
  • the employee could tamper with evidence, influence witnesses and/or sway the investigation
  • there is a risk to other employees, property or customers
  • the employee is the subject of criminal proceedings which may affect whether they can do their job.

In these cases, consider alternatives to a suspension where possible, such as a temporary adjustment to the employee’s working arrangements. This could involve being moved to a different area of the workplace, working from home, changing their working hours, being placed on restricted duties, working under supervision and being transferred to a different role within the organisation (with a similar status to their normal role, and the same terms and conditions of employment).

If suspension is the only option, work with the employee to keep it confidential, and if this is not possible, how they would like it communicated to the rest of the business. Suspensions can have a damaging effect on the employee and their reputation if not managed properly.

You may also need to consider whether you should escort the employee from the workplace, remove the employee’s pass and/or IT access if appropriate and/or ask the employee to not contact other employees during your investigation.

Suspension on medical grounds

You have a duty to ensure the health and safety of your employees, and in some instances health professionals may recommend an individual worker is unfit to work in a particular area or hazard.

If this cannot immediately be rectified, you may have to suspend the employee until it is safe for them to return to work. However, before you do this, you need to consider adjusting the working conditions or offering alternative work (at the same rate of pay and on terms no less favourable than the original role).

Suspension due to a risk to new or expectant mothers

In your risk assessment you must consider any specific workplace risks for any employee of childbearing age, who is pregnant, given birth in the last six months and/or breastfeeding.

When you are told about an employee’s pregnancy, you must consider the general risk assessment as well any advice the employee has received from their doctor or midwife. If you can’t remove any possible risk, you should consider temporarily adjusting working conditions and/or working hours, and if that is not possible, offer suitable alternative work, as above. If that is not possible you will need to suspend the employee until their maternity leave begins or it is safe for them to return to work.

The employee must be provided with the outcome of the risk assessment and the reason why the risk could not be removed.

If you think that you need to suspend an employee and need guidance, contact me today.

Should you let an employee take a career break?

Taking a career break is a big decision for anyone, and impacts on more than just the individual considering an extended period away from work.

Why do employees take career breaks?

There are many reasons to take a career break. Family commitments, travelling, volunteering or studying are all some of the motives that would cause an employee to think about taking a sabbatical. However, there are no laws that cover taking a career break or sabbatical. Your employees do not have a statutory right to take extended leave from your business.

Do you have to offer career breaks?

Legally, employers do not have to offer career breaks and there are no laws specifically dealing with taking one.

However, there are benefits to your business of employees taking sabbaticals. These extended periods of leave are usually unpaid, and can be used as a reward and motivation. As well as increasing retention of employees, they can increase the skills of your workforce.

How should I deal with employees who want to take career breaks?

You should have a clear policy regarding career breaks, available for all staff.

Career breaks are not a set length of time and can vary (with sabbaticals being seen as a shorter period). Some employees may request a couple of months, others a couple of years. You need to set the terms and conditions of such breaks in your policy, including the length of break that you are prepared to offer.

Other areas that need to be included in your policy are eligibity, and how to apply for a career break, as well as the required notice period. You also need to consider how it will affect the terms and conditions of your employee, such as their annual leave entitlements and contractual benefits.

Can I refuse a request?

As Acas states, “Employers should look at requests on a case-by-case basis, as they will need to consider how the employee’s work and responsibilities will be covered while they’re off. This will help employers if they need to refuse a request for business needs. Employers should be fair and consistent when considering requests to ensure they don’t treat some employees unfavourably or discriminate against them.”

You may wish to refuse a request when the employee has a record of poor performance and attendance, if you are unable to cover their role during their break, or if the demands of your business are too high at that time.

If you are struggling with HR policy and process, contact me today for guidance and support




Anxiety in the Workplace 

Anxiety in the workplace is becoming increasingly common, as shown by new research from the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP). Rates of moderate to extreme anxiety and depression among employees have soared by 30.5% since records began in 2013. New data from the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) also shows that, in 2017, around 526,000 workers in the UK suffered from work-related stress, depression or anxiety. In the same year, stress, depression and anxiety accounted for 40% of all work-related ill-health cases.

This is a huge, growing, problem for employers. How can you recognise the signs of anxiety in your employees? And how can you promote positive mental health in your workplace?

What is Anxiety?

Mind explains anxiety as  “what we feel when we are worried, tense or afraid – particularly about things that are about to happen, or which we think could happen in the future.  It is a natural human response, however prolonged feelings of anxiety have a negative impact on people’s thoughts, feelings and physical sensations.”

Anxiety in the workplace may be caused by issues such as workload, performance or conflict with colleagues. Other factors, outside the workplace, may include relationship, family or debt problems, which will also affect an employee’s performance at work and attendance levels.

How can I support my staff?

Look out for signs that an employee is suffering from anxiety. These can include:

  • taking more time off work
  • becoming more emotional or over-reacting to what others say
  • feeling negative, dwelling on negative experiences
  • starting to behave differently, feeling restless and not being able to concentrate.

If you believe that a member of staff may be feeling increasingly anxious at work, address these issues as early as possible. You, or the employee’s Manager, should have a conversation in a private place with the employee, ensuring that there are no interruptions.

Ask open questions to find out how the person is honestly feeling, allowing them a lot of time to answer and not pushing them for a response. Try to put yourself in the others person’s position and see things from their perspective to get them to open up to you about any worries or fears. It’s also useful to make arrangements for a follow up meeting to review the situation.

What next?

Staff with good mental health are more likely to perform well, have good attendance levels and be engaged in their work. Take steps to support the mental health of your staff and start creating a workplace where they feel able to communicate safely and easily with their manager can help to reduce the impact of mental ill health in your business.

This could include

  • identifying why you are committed to promoting positive mental health and what your objectives are
  • planning a range of activities and key messages to educate staff and managers and remove any stigma associated with mental ill health.
  • putting support processes in place for staff experiencing mental ill health, such as training managers in mental health and having named mental health champions in the workplace
  • creating a mental health policy and reviewing existing policies
  • ensuring that you and your senior managers champion mental health awareness and act as role models

Other ways you can support employees can be found on the Anxiety UK website.

If you need any help implementing these actions or have a problem with growing anxiety in workplace, contact me today to find out more


Alcoholism in the Workplace

How does your business handle alcoholism in the workplace? It’s a sensitive subject, but something that that employers are increasingly approaching us to assist with.

Do you know the steps for dealing an employee who may have problems with alcohol, or indeed another addiction? You should have a process in place that works with the employee to recognise that there is a problem, and put steps in place to rectify it.

Why is alcoholism in the workplace a problem?

According to HSE, alcohol is estimated to cause 3-5% of all absences from work. This equates to about 8 to 14 million lost working days – something your business can’t afford to ignore. As well as possibly losing you productivity and money, there is also a real risk from an employee doing their job under the influence. As HSE states, “Alcohol consumption may result in reduced work performance, damaged customer relations, and resentment among employees who have to ‘carry’ colleagues whose work declines because of their drinking.”

How do you know if it is a problem?

This is the most important element – at what point is someone’s possible alcohol addiction a problem to your business rather than an issue for their individual health? You need to set out, as a business, at what point and in what circumstances you will treat an employee’s drinking as a matter for discipline rather than a health problem.

Communication and the training of staff is an important factor here. You must let your workforce know your company policy on alcohol and other substances. Train your managers to recognise signs of alcoholism, general information about alcohol and health and what to do if they believe an employee’s personal situation is impacting on workplace.

What should you do if you believe an employee has an alcohol problem?

Once you become aware of the issue, you must keep accurate and confidential records of instances of where poor performance has caused a problem. You will also need to talk to the worker formally as early as possible.

Concentrate on the instances of poor performance that have been identified, and ask your employee the reasons for poor performance. You could question whether it could be due to a health problem, without specifically mentioning alcohol or drugs. If appropriate, now is the time to discuss your alcohol and drugs policy and the help available inside or outside of your organisation.

You can then agree future action and arrange regular meetings to monitor progress.

If you need further support with alcoholism in the workplace, talk to us today (contact page)

How many sick days do your staff take each year?

Ever thought about how many days your staff are absent from your business through illness every year? You might think it’s only a couple for most of your staff, but actually the average figure, per staff member, is 6.9 days.

These seven days absence a year, per employee, needs careful management. It also doesn’t include other types of leave – annual leave, maternity or paternity leave and special leave. Does your business have plans in place to deal with all these different types of absence? How much is it costing your business? And what about unauthorised leave? Perhaps you have a member of staff that appears to be unwell for a lot longer than average? Learning how to deal with absence management is an essential part of HR, as these days off through absence actually costs UK businesses up to £116 billion each year.

How do you manage your staff absence?

Every employee will be unwell occasionally. Most of the time, these are genuine, unavoidable occurrences. However, you need to have a plan in place to manage them. You need to know why your staff are off, whether it is short-term or long-term, and if this is a regular pattern. Some short-term absences are repeated over the long term, whether this is an illness or injury, or perhaps stress or a mental health issue. The more you know about it, the more you can plan ahead and cover any absences with your existing team, or by finding temporary cover externally.

Short-term absences

These can usually be dealt with internally. One or two days without an employee means that their workload can wait for their return, with more pressing matters being handled by a member of your team.

If these episodes of short-term absences being to be repeated, or you can see a pattern, it may be worth discussing this with your employee to find out if there are any underlying reasons and if you can provide any support to help them overcome this.

Long-term absences

If you know that the period of absence will be long-term, you may want to consider hiring a temporary worker. Long-term absences may also require supporting the employee as they return to work. This may include occupational health, communication with their GP or the Fit to Work Scheme.

Unauthorised absences

If you are faced with unauthorised or unexplained absences from a member of staff these will have to be managed. A disciplinary/dismissal case may have raised with the employee.

To find out more about managing staff absence, contact HR That Helps today.




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