News + Insights from the Legal Team at Zalkind Duncan & Bernstein

What to do if you’re placed on administrative leave

pexels-cottonbro-5483161-scaledBeing placed on administrative leave can feel like limbo – you still have your job, but you’ve been told to stay away from your workplace, and perhaps your colleagues, often for an unknown amount of time. In this difficult situation, it’s important to learn about your legal rights and proceed cautiously with your workplace relationships to safeguard your career and well-being.  

What is administrative leave, and why does it happen? 

Administrative leave is when an employer removes an employee from the workplace and their job duties temporarily but, typically, continues to provide the employee with their salary and benefits. A person on administrative leave is still employed, and most employers distinguish between a non-disciplinary administrative leave and a disciplinary suspension. Administrative leave often happens when there is an allegation of misconduct against an employee. An employer may place an employee on leave to investigate allegations or to address concerns about disruptiveness or dangerousness in the workplace. In Massachusetts, where an employee must be paid in full on the day of termination, employers will sometimes place an employee on a short administrative leave pending a known termination date in order to ensure that they can comply with the Wage Act by providing full payment on the last day of work. Administrative leaves can also be mutually agreed on in some circumstances, like a sabbatical or unpaid leave. 

Is administrative leave legal? 

There is no federal or Massachusetts law that prohibits administrative leave, but employees on leave do still have legal rights. If your employer has a formal policy regarding investigations and use of administrative leave, they must abide by it. If you have an employment contract, your employer generally must adhere to that contract in placing you on leave.  

You also have the right to be free from discrimination, which means you must be treated comparably to other employees in the same circumstances. For example, if you were placed on administrative leave because someone alleged you verbally abused a supervisee, but another person with the same allegations against them was given a warning and permitted to continue working, this may be discriminatory. 

If you’ve raised concerns to your employer about certain unethical or illegal conduct like discrimination or, in some cases, safety and fraud, your employer cannot retaliate against you for raising those concerns by taking negative actions against you. Even though administrative leave is usually not formal discipline, courts have still held that administrative leave can qualify as retaliation 

Other employment laws, such as timely payment of wages and sick time accrual, still apply while you are on administrative leave. If you are going to be terminated following administrative leave and you are a public employee, you may have a right to formal notice of the allegations and a hearing before your termination. 

What should I do? 

Consulting an employment attorney can de-mystify the administrative leave process. To gather information about effects your leave may have, a good first step is to review any employment contract you have and employer policies around employee discipline, investigations, and administrative leave. It is also a good idea to request your personnel record from your employer, which by law in Massachusetts they are required to provide to you within 5 days. If your employer has placed restrictions on your ability to access work documents and/or contact your coworkers or discuss the allegations against you, you should abide by those until you have spoken to an attorney. Be judicious about what you communicate about any known allegations against you. 

If you have reason to believe that you were placed on administrative leave or treated differently because of your race, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, age, or disability, or veteran status, you might consider informing your employer about your concerns to avoid further differential treatment. The law prohibits them from retaliating against you for raising this concern, though you should be aware that, in practice, an employer might still retaliate even though it is illegal. 

Unless there is a clearly communicated end date for the administrative leave, an employer can ask you to return to work at any time; being unavailable to return during normal work hours could affect your employment. It is a good idea to be prepared for possible termination by updating your resume and keeping an eye on job openings, but leaving your job of your own accord while on administrative leave may affect your employment benefits, eligibility for unemployment benefits, or potential legal claims. Limitations you have on looking for other employment, or ways being on administrative leave might affect your search, will depend on your employer policies, the allegations against you, and any contract you have with your employer, like a non-competition agreement 

You’ve already taken a good first step by educating yourself about your legal rights and options. Consulting with an attorney, preparing for your career’s future, and being mindful of your well-being can help you navigate a difficult administrative leave well. 

If you’ve been placed on administrative leave and want to discuss your legal rights, please contact our employment attorneys at 617-742-6020 

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