Labour Research November 2009

Law Queries


Q. Together with the employer, we are reviewing our staff handbook policies. We noticed that the disciplinary policy still refers to suspension as a neutral act. Isn’t suspension considered to stigmatise the employee and so should be discouraged?

A. In the case of Mezey v SW London and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust [2007] EWCA Civ 106, the High Court decided that suspension cannot be characterised as a neutral act. Specifically, Lord Justice Sedley stated that suspension: “Changes the status quo from work to no work, and it inevitably casts a shadow over the employee’s competence. Of course this does not mean that it cannot be done, but it is not a neutral act.” So the handbook in this respect needs to be updated.

An updated policy should not, therefore, include a mechanism for “automatic suspension”, for example, following a serious allegation.

Also, before any suspension of a worker can take effect there must be active consideration of whether it is necessary to suspend, and the views of the employee concerned should be sought.

Additionally, the new policy should ensure that the need for an employee to remain on suspension is frequently reviewed, (for example, not less than fortnightly), and that there is a cap on the amount of time that an individual can remain on suspension (for example, three months).