When placing an employee on suspension you need to have good cause, and follow a proper procedure. And even then the employee may not go quietly, using his ‘time off’ to scamper off to the Labour Court instead of sitting at home, putting his feet up in front of the telly while you go about investigating allegations and digging up any dirt you can find on him.
In Tsietsi v City of Matlosana Local Municipality a manager was placed on suspension pending the outcome of an investigation into allegations of financial misconduct against him. In this case:
- The employer gave the employee written notice of his suspension:
- The employer gave the employee a list of the allegations against him; and
- The employee was invited to submit written representation showing why he should not be suspended.
The employee took issue with his suspension and decided to challenge it in the Labour Court. He felt that the suspension was unfair, arguing that a fair process had not been followed, and also claiming that the allegations of misconduct against him were vague. He claimed that:
- His failure to submit written representation showing why he shouldn’t be suspended was because he didn’t have all the requisite information – he claimed that he needed additional specifics from the employer; and
- The suspension did not comply with municipal regulations. The municipal regulations required that for an employee to be placed on suspension, the employer must have a reasonable belief that the employee may jeopardise the investigation into the misconduct allegations.
The court in this matter held that:
- The allegations of misconduct do not need to be set out in detail;
- Suspension is a precautionary measure. It is not punitive in nature;
- The purpose of suspension is to allow the employer to carry out an investigation and in the process protect the employer from suffering any further damages. It is only after the investigation has been completed that the employer would be able to provide the employee with more detail on the misconduct allegations;
- If the employer acceded to the employee’s request for further information, it could even jeopardise the employer’s investigations;
- In this particular case (pertaining to municipal regulations) it is not necessary for the employer to provide any evidence to support the assertion that the employee may interfere with the investigation.
The suspension was therefore adjudged lawful, and the employee’s challenge against his suspension failed.
This case is a reminder that when an employer has proper employment policies in place, including employment notices such as an employee suspension notice, and follows the correct and lawful procedures when dealing with its staff, including procedures for placing staff on suspension, then such an employer has little to fear in the event that the employee attempts to launch a legal challenge against the employer.
Please note that this information is supplied for general information and does not constitute legal advice. It is advisable for you to contact a legal practitioner for guidance in respect of your unique requirements.