So imagine you’ve just suspended an employee and packed them off with their letter setting out the terms of their suspension. You now need to address their reporting lines and it can be tempting to write an email to staff perhaps even telling them that their colleague has been suspended. I currently have an Employment Tribunal file on my desk where the communication to colleagues that took place immediately following suspension is something that the employee has leapt on in order to claim that minds were made up, his dismissal was entirely pre-judged from the moment of suspension and that trust and confidence would have been broken at that point in time.
I suggest instead that you speak to employees. The reason that I am suggesting speaking to colleagues is that you will not then have paperwork which will form part of any data protection subject access request when it is inevitably made.
When you speak to the colleagues you should inform them that their line management is temporarily changing and explain who they are now reporting to and, if they are required to take on some of the suspended employee’s duties, state this fact. You would reference the suspended employee as being temporarily absent from work. Curious colleagues are bound to ask why but I would just say that this is “confidential”. You can always bat it back to the colleagues by saying that if it were the other way around, they would want confidentiality to be protected and when most people think about it like that, they can understand.
You may be worried about the suspended employee trying to affect the investigation in some way by speaking to their colleagues. If that is the case there is nothing wrong with you, when you have this conversation, explaining to employees that there is nothing wrong with them having purely social contact with their absent colleague but they should not be discussing work with them.
It is entirely possible that the suspended employee themselves will tell all and sundry that they are being suspended and they are being investigated. If that is the case and people are querying the position, then you are free to confirm that you would have preferred to keep the matter confidential but now that they employee has explained to them, that yes there is an investigation and they are duty bound to co-operate with that investigation if they are called to do so. I wouldn’t go into any details about what the investigation is about.
In general, I would leave it to the investigator to plan out how they are going to conduct their investigation, who they are going to speak to and to brief any witnesses in terms of issues around co-operation with the investigation, confidentiality, the fact that the suspended employee may well get to see an investigation report etc.