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HR 101 – What to do When . . . You Want to Suspend an Employee

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Please note that this pertains to South African Labour and Best Practice requirements.

Firstly, let us understand when an employee can be suspended.

Usually (but not always, so be careful here) an employee is suspended during pre-disciplinary investigations or pending the outcome of disciplinary action. I would like to make it quite clear here though that the reason(s) for suspension should be documented and controlled by the terms and conditions of the Employment Contract or Letter of Appointment or the Company’s Disciplinary Procedures or the Company’s detailed suspension policies.

Suspensions can often cause a huge amount of problems, so you really need to make sure that you are suspending the employee for the right reasons.

Issues that need to be taken into account when suspending an employee are, but not limited to:
– the need for the suspension
– the duration of the suspension
– prejudice suffered by the employee
– demands for disclosure of information
– constructive dismissal claims lodged due to resignation during lengthy suspensions etc.

Let’s go to my favorite protagonists for the type of situation that can arise.

Mike is our Business Owner. He has a retail store that sells cell phones and accessories. George is the Manager of the store in question and as such he is the sole key holder. The stock has been, steadily but surely going missing on a monthly basis. There are 4 staff members in the store and since clients do not have direct access to stock, it can only be one of the employees.

Mike has requested and received a printout of “activity” from the security company. This evidences when the store ‘opens’ and ‘closes’ and also if the store has been entered after hours. Mike notices that at least once a week, the store is ‘opened at’ around 10pm and then ‘closed’ again at around 10.10pm. Since George was the only one with store keys and the alarm codes, it was a reasonable assumption for George to be considered the ‘guilty’ party.

This hearing was scheduled to last for five days.

George insisted that he wanted his attorney Alex to represent him.

Alex could only be available for the 5 days over a 3 month period. This, of course, was not practical and unacceptable and George was given various options in order for the hearing to be expedited. George was offered, (amongst other things) a 4-day postponement in order for him to find an alternative attorney and he was also offered the option to have the hearing held over the 3 month period on the condition that the suspension would be unpaid. George declined all the alternative offers and the hearing proceeded without him being represented by an attorney.

In this instance, it would have been ‘unfair’ to expect Mike to pay for 3 months suspension because it was George’s insistence to have a particular attorney represent him and also because George declined all other offers made by Mike

Be careful though as an employer, not to insist on non-payment for all postponements requested by an accused employee. Not all instances will be regarded as procedurally fair. Each case must be judged on its own merits.

Next time we will explore another HR-related topic.