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What Wayne Rooney teaches us about workplace suspension

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It seems that England striker Wayne Rooney has been punished for kicking Miodrag Dzudovic during a recent match with Montenegro by being suspended from three matches in the 2012 series. 

Highly-paid footballers get away with a lot! If that was any other job, he would be almost certainly be suspended and then be dismissed for gross misconduct.

Suspension provokes lively debate among management and HR professionals. There are some who say that you must suspend if the alleged offence is gross misconduct. 

I disagree. While there may be occasions when it is necessary for you to suspend an employee whilst you carry out your investigations, suspension is the act of last resort and you should suspend an employee only if there’s no reasonable alternative. It should not be a knee-jerk reaction.

In Mezey v. SW London and St George NHS Trust [2007] the court made it clear that it considered that suspension is not a neutral action. It took the view that suspension casts a shadow over the proceedings. 

I’d suggest that where you have reasonable grounds for belief that the employee’s continued presence at work would put the employee at risk, put others at risk or put the organization at risk (or a combination of any of these) then it would be fair to consider aprecautionary suspension. If and when you do have to suspend, make it clear that the suspension is not considered a disciplinary action, nor is it an assumption of guilt.

Suspension from work pending an investigation into alleged misconduct will normally be with pay. During the period of suspension, the employee will continue to retain all contractual benefits and accrue annual leave.

Keep the suspension as brief as possible. Write to the employee to set out the arrangements. While he will not be allowed to come onto the company’s premises during the period of suspension, he should make himself available to help progress the investigation during his normal working hours and should not go on holiday without asking for and obtaining permission.

Suspended employees should be allowed back to work premises to prepare their case for disciplinary hearings, but it’s sensible to supervise access to the workplace and files. 

If an employee has been suspended during an investigatory period, the suspension should be lifted immediately if it is found that there is no case to answer.

It is unusual to suspend an employee for poor work performance, but it might occasionally happen where there is a concern about gross incompetence or gross negligence. In cases where a period of suspension with pay is considered necessary, the suspension should be as brief as possible.

Kate Russell is MD of Russell HR Consulting.

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