I know. You’re reading the title of this post and probably saying to yourself, “What the –?!” That’s exactly what this HR Bartender reader is saying as well.
I would like to know if I have the right to contact my employer regarding the outcome of an investigation.
I was placed on suspension in November 2016. I don’t know why I was suspended and HR didn’t ask me any questions on the day I received my suspension. I haven’t heard anything. My manager said he doesn’t know what’s going on because the person in HR is on leave.
There’s a lot going on in this situation so it’s not possible to give a single response. However, there are a few things about suspensions that you might want to know. To offer some insights, I asked employment attorney Donna Ballman to help us out. She’s helped us before – one of my faves is the post “Can You Bring Your Mother to a Meeting With HR?”
Please remember that Donna does have a full-time job and her comments should not be construed as legal advice or as pertaining to any specific factual situations. If you have detailed questions, they should be addressed directly with your friendly neighborhood labor attorney.
Donna, in your experience, why are employees placed on suspension?
[Ballman] Holy cow! What a question. It could be just about anything. Sometimes it’s just because there is an investigation going on. It’s usually paid if that’s the case. The best example I can give is one we’ve seen in the news when a police officer is involved in a shooting, so they are placed on suspension pending investigation. An unpaid suspension could be because the company has concluded the employee did something wrong or for a host of other reasons.
Should an employee expect to be interviewed if they are placed on suspension? Why or why not?
[Ballman] It would be normal for a company to interview an employee either before, during or right after a suspension. Before would be the norm if the suspension is after an investigation for some kind of wrongdoing. Most companies would interview the employee before coming to the conclusion they did something wrong (but that’s not always the case).
If the suspension is pending an investigation of some sort, then the interview could be before, during or after the suspension. The company will usually want to get the employee’s input on the investigation. They’ll do it before if they need the employee’s information and witness names before they can complete the investigation. They’ll do it during or after if they want to find out what any witnesses and evidence showed before they talk to the employee.
It’s important to know, though, that there is no law in any state I’m aware of that requires the company to interview the employee either pre- or post- discipline.
It only seems logical that if an employee is placed on suspension, there needs to be follow-up. How should an employee contact the company (if they think the process is taking unusually long)?
[Ballman] I’ve seen employees left in limbo for months, and some never get an answer because unscrupulous employers want to claim the employee quit so they leave them hanging indefinitely. I’d definitely follow up at least once a week (unless told otherwise), in writing via email with a read receipt and delivery receipt, something to the effect of:
“I am following up on my suspension which commenced on [date]. I would like to return to work as soon as possible. Please let me know when I may return. I am ready, willing, and able to provide any additional information you need.”
While an employee is on suspension, does the manager have a role in communicating with the employee?
[Ballman] Either HR or the manager should be communicating with the employee. Sometimes the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing though. I would suggest that the employee clarify with the company the protocol as to who they should be communicating with.
There are some details we don’t know about this organization in terms of size and how many HR representatives they have on staff. It is possible that someone in HR went out on leave or had a serious accident. What can organizations do to keep HR processes moving when HR is unavailable?
[Ballman] If it’s a suspension with pay, you’d think the company would be right on top of that so they aren’t paying someone to stay home. If it’s without pay, they may not care. Normally, it is wise for a company to have a person designated to handle HR issues in the absence of the HR person. If they have a policy saying employees should report, say, discrimination or the need for Family and Medical Leave (FMLA) to HR, then having nobody there or telling nobody who is covering could cause serious liability problems.
Remember, even tiny companies could be subject to state laws and local ordinances about discrimination and other issues. Here in Florida, several counties have discrimination ordinances covering employers with 5 or more employees. I know it’s tempting for a small company to be a little loosey-goosey in its procedures, but having someone designated to deal with HR issues at all times is just basic. I would consider this a bare minimum requirement if the company wants to prevent employee lawsuits.
My thanks to Donna for sharing her knowledge with us on this difficult topic. Please be sure to check out her blog on employee-side employment law issues, Screw You Guys, I’m Going Home. It’s been named one of the American Bar Association’s 100 best legal blogs for the past five years. And she’s the author of the award-winning book “Stand Up for Yourself Without Getting Fired: Resolve Workplace Crises Before You Quit, Get Axed or Sue the Bastards.”
This reader note is a prime example of the need for good organizational communication. Companies need to communicate expectations. Managers and employees need to regularly communicate about performance. HR needs to communicate policies and procedures. Follow-up communications need to happen.
Image captured by Sharlyn Lauby after speaking at the 2016 SHRM Annual Conference in Washington, DC