Suspension from work on medical/health and safety grounds
In certain circumstances your employer may need to suspend you from work for health and safety reasons. This article outlines your rights if that happens, looks at how you'll be paid and what happens if you're pregnant.
Suspension from work on medical grounds
Your employer has a duty to take all reasonable steps to ensure your health and safety. This means they can suspend you from work if they think you may be at particular risk from certain substances which are hazardous to health. For example, you may be suspended if you become seriously allergic to a chemical at work, or if you're a newly expectant mother working in a lab that uses radiation. Your employer's decision should be based on a risk assessment.
An employee is regarded as suspended from work only if he continues to be employed by his employer but is not provided with work or does not perform the work normally performed before suspension.
You won’t have the right to paid suspension on medical grounds if, for example:
- you are self-employed, you’re not an employee (for example, an independent contractor or freelance worker)
- you unreasonably refuse other suitable work offered by your employer
- you don’t meet any reasonable requirements your employer may have to make sure you’re available for other/alternative work when required
If you've been in your job for a month or more when you're suspended, you have the right to be paid for up to 26 weeks of suspension. The pay should be equal to a normal week's pay. However, if you're offered other suitable work you must take it - otherwise you lose your right to be paid.
There may be rules for medical suspension in your contract of employment. If they say you're to be paid while suspended, you should make sure the actual amount isn't less than a normal week's pay. If it is, your employer must make up the difference.
If you don’t want to return to work while suspended, refusing other suitable work ends your right to pay. This includes work that may not be included in your contract of employment.
If you are pregnant?
Your employer must make a special assessment of the risks to pregnant mothers and their babies. If there are risks, your employer must protect you and your baby by:
- adjusting your working conditions and/or hours of work
- offering you other suitable work if there is any
- suspending you from work for as long as necessary
An employee who is pregnant, or has recently given birth, or who is breast-feeding may have to be suspended from work on maternity grounds if continued attendance might damage her, or the baby's health.
If you're suspended you're entitled to full pay, which includes any bonuses you would have been paid. Your suspension should last until the risk to you or your baby has been removed.
There can be extra risks to the health of pregnant night workers. If you have a medical certificate saying that there's a risk, you should be offered suitable day work. If none is available you can be suspended until the risk to health has passed.
If you unreasonably refuse suitable alternative work your employer doesn't have to pay you.
An employee is entitled to make a complaint to an industrial tribunal if there is suitable alternative work available which her employer has failed to offer her before suspending her from work on maternity grounds.
What to do next
If your own health is involved, talk to your GP. If you disagree with your employer you should use the grievance procedure set out in your contract. If there is nothing set out in your contract follow the link below.
Check you're getting the right amount of pay. Your contract or statement of employment will say whether your employer can pay you differently during suspension. You may wish to contact the Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland (HSENI) for advice.
As a last resort you can complain to an Industrial Tribunal.
Where can you get help?
The Labour Relations Agency (LRA) offers free, confidential and impartial advice on all employment rights issues for residents of Northern Ireland. You can contact the LRA on 028 9032 1442 from 9.00 am to 5.00 pm Monday to Friday.
Your local Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) can provide free and impartial advice. You can find your local CAB office in the phone book or online.