Gardening leave is the term used by employers to cover circumstances when employees are paid as normal but are not required to be at work. It is commonly used by companies when an employee resigns and they do not want them leaving immediately but would prefer them not to be in the office for some reason.

Why would an employer pay someone to do nothing?

They do not want the employee to have access to commercially sensitive information;

They want to prevent the employee from having access to clients and customers and perhaps indicating that they are leaving;

They think it will be bad for the morale of other staff;

They think the employee might encourage other staff to leave with them;

They would prefer the employee not to have access to confidential information

Example

Dean is a financial recruitment consultant. He resigns giving a months notice because he has accepted another job with a competitor. The company he works for does not want him in the office hearing about the the new candidates coming in for interview or finding out which clients are looking to recruit as this information would be advantageous to their competitor.  His knowledge would be less damaging in a month when it is less current so the company may chose to put him on gardening leave for the duration of his notice period.

I have been put on gardening leave but now my employer wants me to go back into the office

Employees on gardening leave are still subject to the terms of their contract and it is perfectly legitimate for an employer to ask them to return to work.

Can I work for my own company or for myself whilst on gardening leave?

In short, no.  You are still employed and subject to all the restrictions contained within your contract.

I have been put on gardening leave and asked to return my company car

If you are still employed, you are entitled to all your usual pay and benefits.  If you were permitted to use your company car for private use whilst you were working then you should still be permitted to use it whilst you are on gardening leave.

Can I tell my clients that I am leaving and where I am going to be working in a few weeks time?

You are still bound by any restrictive covenants or confidentiality clauses within your contract.  You are also bound by implied terms such as good faith.

Can I be put on gardening leave if I don’t want to be?

There should be an express or implied term in your contract permitting your employer to put you on gardening leave.  Where there is a term then it can only be applied insofar as it is reasonable.