The Role of HR in a Disciplinary Situation
In a decision of theEmployment Appeals Tribunal, Ramphal v Department forTransport, the Employment Appeals Tribunal relying on anearlier decision of the Supreme Court in West London MentalHealth NHS Trust v Chhabra gave some valuable advice as to therole of HR professionals in relation to investigatory anddisciplinary proceedings.
It is of course commonpractice for employers with dedicated HR Officers to advise thoseconducting investigatory and indeed disciplinary proceedings toplace reliance upon the expertise of the HR department.
In the case of Mr Ramphalthere was a clear statement to that effect in the staff handbookwhich made it clear that individuals conducting investigations anddisciplinary proceedings should consult Human Resources if theywish to do so at any stage of the proceedings. The staffhandbook stated as follows "we wont make decisions for you, that isyour job but we will be there for you".
The case therefore, revolvedaround the extent to which HR should become involved in adisciplinary situation.
Here, the Employment AppealsTribunal adopting the earlier rationale of the Supreme Court inChhabra stated categorically that advice should be limited toquestions of law and procedure and not stray into areas ofculpability.
In the case of Ramphal thepresiding Judge in the Employment Appeals Tribunal, HHJ Serotafound that there was sufficient evidence to support "an inferenceof improper influence" where the initial finding of theinvestigatory and dismissing officer, Mr Goodchild was elevatedfrom a report which concluded that the Claimant, (who it wasalleged had misused a company credit card), had not done sodeliberately and that explanations given by him for expenditure onpetrol were both "consistent" and "plausible". The reportwent on to make a recommendation for a finding of misconduct with asanction of a final written warning. The eventual decisionwas however to dismiss for gross misconduct. His Honour JudgeSerota pointed to what he considered to be changes so striking asto give rise to an inference of improper influence.
The Judge went onto concludethat whilst an investigating officer is entitled to call for advicefrom Human Resources, Human Resources must be very careful to limitadvice essentially to questions of law and procedure and processand to avoid straying into areas of culpability, let alone advisingon what was the appropriate sanction.
In this particular case, hisHonour Judge, Serota felt that the Employment Judge had failed toadequately explain or identify the advice that had led theinvestigating and disciplinary officer to alter his initialdecision to dismiss and in those circumstances, allowed the appealand remitted it back to the original Employment Judge forreconsideration.
This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.