The Role of HR in a Disciplinary Situation

In a decision of the Employment Appeals Tribunal, Ramphal v Department for Transport, the Employment Appeals Tribunal relying on an earlier decision of the Supreme Court in West London Mental Health NHS Trust v Chhabra gave some valuable advice as to the role of HR professionals in relation to investigatory and disciplinary proceedings. 

It is of course common practice for employers with dedicated HR Officers to advise those conducting investigatory and indeed disciplinary proceedings to place reliance upon the expertise of the HR department.

In the case of Mr Ramphal there was a clear statement to that effect in the staff handbook which made it clear that individuals conducting investigations and disciplinary proceedings should consult Human Resources if they wish to do so at any stage of the proceedings.  The staff handbook stated as follows "we wont make decisions for you, that is your job but we will be there for you". 

The case therefore, revolved around the extent to which HR should become involved in a disciplinary situation. 

Here, the Employment Appeals Tribunal adopting the earlier rationale of the Supreme Court in Chhabra stated categorically that advice should be limited to questions of law and procedure and not stray into areas of culpability.

In the case of Ramphal the presiding Judge in the Employment Appeals Tribunal, HHJ Serota found that there was sufficient evidence to support "an inference of improper influence" where the initial finding of the investigatory and dismissing officer, Mr Goodchild was elevated from a report which concluded that the Claimant, (who it was alleged had misused a company credit card), had not done so deliberately and that explanations given by him for expenditure on petrol were both "consistent" and "plausible".  The report went on to make a recommendation for a finding of misconduct with a sanction of a final written warning.  The eventual decision was however to dismiss for gross misconduct.  His Honour Judge Serota pointed to what he considered to be changes so striking as to give rise to an inference of improper influence.

The Judge went onto conclude that whilst an investigating officer is entitled to call for advice from Human Resources, Human Resources must be very careful to limit advice essentially to questions of law and procedure and process and to avoid straying into areas of culpability, let alone advising on what was the appropriate sanction. 

In this particular case, his Honour Judge, Serota felt that the Employment Judge had failed to adequately explain or identify the advice that had led the investigating and disciplinary officer to alter his initial decision to dismiss and in those circumstances, allowed the appeal and remitted it back to the original Employment Judge for reconsideration.

Posted on: 15/09/2015

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.

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