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Employee suspensions

Under the Public Service Act 2008 (the PS Act) employees can be suspended from the workplace in certain circumstances. These circumstances are:

  • the proper and efficient management of a department might be prejudiced if a public service officer is not suspended (Section 137)
  • the decision-maker reasonably believes a public service employee is liable for discipline (Section 189).

The Chief Executive or delegated officer must consider all alternative duties prior to making the decision to suspend an employee, including whether an employee can be assigned alternative duties at an alternative work location or at their home.

Employee suspensions should be used carefully, as they can:

  • result in significant costs to agencies
  • affect an agency’s capacity to deliver services on time and within budget.

Suspension is an administrative action, taken for administrative necessity. It is not disciplinary action and is not to be used as a form of punishment.

Whether to suspend an employee, with or without pay, will depend on the particular circumstances of each case.

1. When to suspend for discipline under section 189

In the case of suspensions where the employee is suspected to be liable for discipline, a suspension can be considered at any stage.  It would usually be considered on the receipt of a complaint about the employee.  A decision can also be made at the commencement of an investigation, and/or at the conclusion of an investigation or where it is determined to commence a discipline process, or at any time further information comes to hand.

Suspension should normally only be considered where allegations may potentially result in termination of employment or demotion.  Factors that support suspension include:

  • an unacceptable risk to clients or co-workers arising from suggestions of physical or sexual conduct or serious verbal abuse.
  • an unacceptable risk to the business arising from the potential for fraud, serious breach of professional boundaries or concerns about the employee’s honesty, judgement, trustworthiness or competency.
  • an unacceptable risk of tampering with evidence or influencing employees involved in the investigation.
  • public confidence in the agency would be impacted if the employee remains in the workplace.

Suspension can only occur where there are no alternative duties that may be available for the employee to perform.

A suspension can be lifted at any time. The decision should be reconsidered if further information changes the nature of the allegations by making them less serious or affects a consideration of other factors relied upon for the suspension decision.

See Managing employee suspensions

2. When not to suspend for discipline

It is normally not appropriate to suspend an employee under section 189 of the PS Act if the matter would not be likely to end in termination or demotion if proved, or the employee can undertake alternative duties or be supervised in the workplace to reduce risk.

A decision to suspend a person is not a suggestion of prejudgement of the outcome of the matter, rather it is used as a risk management strategy.

3. When to suspend under section 137

It may be appropriate to suspend a person, other than as part of an investigation or disciplinary process, where the chief executive has a reasonable belief that the proper and efficient management of the department may be prejudiced if the officer is not suspended, for example:

  • the employee’s conduct or alleged conduct raises concerns about work health and safety risks to others, or
  • the employee’s conduct or alleged conduct raises concerns about their fitness for work, or
  • an unacceptable risk to the business e.g. risk of interference with a tender process, and
  • public confidence in the agency would be impacted if the employee remains in the workplace.

A suspension can only occur where there are no alternative duties that may be available for the employee to perform.

See Managing employee suspensions

4. More information