Supporting employees’ mental health during suspension
Acas publishes new guidance on managing disciplinary suspension.
Suspending an employee pending a disciplinary investigation is a process which requires careful thought at the outset and proactive management to minimise risks to the employer and employee.
For detail on the important considerations for employers before taking a decision to suspend, see our Wrigleys Essential Employment Guide on this topic from November 2021 (available on our website).
Acas has recently published updated guidance for employers on suspension. This is available at https://www.acas.org.uk/suspension-during-an-investigation. The guidance highlights the risks arising from suspension when it is not necessitated by the circumstances. It also emphasises the importance of considering alternatives to suspension which will help to lower risks while protecting the integrity of the investigation and the wellbeing of colleagues. Alternatives to suspension might include changing the times and place of work, adjusting the type of work which is carried out, or controlling those with whom the employee comes into contact.
The updated Acas guidance reminds employers that suspension can trigger or worsen existing mental health issues for the employee under investigation. The guidance also makes the point that suspended employees are likely to be less visible to managers than usual and that mental health issues during this time away from work can be missed or underestimated. It is therefore important to be proactive and to signpost sources of support in letters, emails and calls to the employee.
It provides useful suggestions for supporting employees’ mental health while they are suspended. These include:
- clear communication with the employee at the outset so they are aware of why they are suspended and what this means for their pay and benefits;
- regular updates on what is happening in the disciplinary process and the likely timescales involved;
- making sure the suspension only lasts for as long as it needs to;
- providing a point of contact for the employee if they have any concerns;
- signposting the employee to support within the organisation, such as an employee assistance programme, mental health champion or trade union, and encouraging them to access it; and
- signposting the employee to external support such as a mental health helpline, Citizens Advice, or the Acas helpline.
Employers continue to have a duty of care to employees who are suspended and they may face personal injury or negligence claims where it is alleged that poor treatment in relation to suspension has led to psychiatric damage. Tribunals considering unfair dismissal claims may be asked to consider whether the employer acted reasonably in relation to the suspension decision and the employer's treatment of the employee during suspension. Having a clear paper-trail showing careful thought around the decision to suspend, clear communication of reasons for suspension, and meaningful support during suspension will assist an employer to defend such claims.
How Wrigleys can help
The employment team at Wrigleys is expert in advising charities, third sector and education sector clients on employment tribunal claims, including those relating to section 145B TULRCA.
We also have extensive experience in advising employers on collective consultations and negotiations with recognised trade unions.
Importantly, we work within the wider charities, social economy, and education teams at Wrigleys and so we also have in-depth understanding of how our clients’ governance and regulatory obligations impact on employment litigation risks and staff / union relations. Our CSE team can further help to minimise your risks by providing advice on charity law, trustee and director duties and delegation of powers, reporting to the regulator, and reputational risk.
If you would like to discuss any aspect of this article further, please contact Alacoque Marvin or any other member of the employment team on 0113 244 6100.
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The information in this article is necessarily of a general nature. The law stated is correct at the date (stated above) this article was first posted to our website. Specific advice should be sought for specific situations. If you have any queries or need any legal advice please feel free to contact Wrigleys Solicitors.