News & Views

How much is too much? The role of HR in disciplinary proceedings

BY Helen Donnelly
Employment law
BG Purple

The EAT has recently ruled on the appropriate level of HR involvement in disciplinary processes.

In the case of Ramphal v Department for Transport, the employee - an aviation security compliance expert - was subject to disciplinary procedures due to alleged misconduct relating to his expenses.

Mr Goodchild was appointed as both investigator and disciplining officer in this case. He produced a draft report which identified both positive and negative aspects of Mr Ramphal’s conduct and concluded that he ought to be issued with a final written warning. Following production of his report, HR recommended that any findings in Mr Ramphal’s favour should be omitted and instead he should be summarily dismissed on grounds of gross misconduct.

Mr Ramphal claimed for unfair dismissal. The ET dismissed his claim, upholding his dismissal on the grounds that it was not wrong for a disciplining officer to seek and receive guidance from HR, particularly in a case such as this where the investigating officer was relatively inexperienced.

On appeal, the EAT found that the changes in Mr Goodchild’s report following his consultation with HR were ‘disturbing’ and inferred that he had been improperly influenced. The EAT relied on the case of Chhabra v West London Mental Health NHS Trust in which the Supreme Court held a case investigator is permitted to seek advice from HR on questions of procedure, presentation of the report, clarity and to ensure that all matters are appropriately addressed. The Supreme Court continued that where the advice from HR went beyond clarifying conclusions, this would be improper.

The EAT in Ramphal explained that in the present case, the HR department had went beyond providing advice on questions of law, procedure and process and had strayed into questions of culpability and sanction. The EAT therefore set aside the original decision and remitted the case back to the ET to be reconsidered.

So what can HR do without overstepping the mark in disciplinary proceedings? They can provide guidance on the disciplinary process and to explain the steps which must be followed in order to arrive at a fair sanction. They might advise on the questions which need to be addressed and the level of detail required. HR can, without imposing their view, advise the disciplining officer of the consistency of their proposed sanction in relation to previous similar situations.

If you are in any doubt, Law At Work are on hand 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to answer any queries which you may have in relation to the disciplinary process.

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