1: Guidance on HR’s involvement in disciplinary proceedings
In Ramphal v Department of Transport (“DFT”), the Appeal Tribunal considered an Employment Tribunal’s finding that a dismissal was fair even though there was evidence that the disciplinary process was heavily influenced by HR.
Mr Ramphal was employed by the DFT as an aviation security compliance inspector, which required significant amounts of travelling. Following a random audit, the DFT launched an investigation in to Mr Ramphal’s excessive fuel expenses, suspicious purchases and use of hire cars for personal reasons. Mr Goodchild, a manager, was appointed to prepare an investigation report and act as dismissing officer if necessary.
Mr Goodchild’s first draft report concluded that Mr Ramphal was guilty of misconduct and should be given a final written warning. However, with input from HR, Mr Goodchild’s findings in six further draft reports became increasingly critical of Mr Ramphal. Mr Goodchild’s final report concluded that Mr Ramphal was guilty of gross negligence and that he should be dismissed.
The Employment Tribunal held that Mr Ramphal had been fairly dismissed, finding that Mr Goodchild had an honest belief in Mr Ramphal’s guilt and that there were reasonable grounds for sustaining that belief. It concluded that Mr Goodchild’s decision was based on proper investigation and was within the range of reasonable responses open to a reasonable employer.
However, the Appeal Tribunal upheld Mr Ramphal’s appeal, noting that there was an inference of improper influence by HR and that the Tribunal had failed to give sufficient consideration to what had led to Mr Goodchild’s change of heart. It was clear that HR’s advice had covered not only legal and procedural matters, but also issues related to Mr Ramphal’s credibility and culpability. The Appeal Tribunal held that an employee is entitled to expect that a disciplinary decision will be taken by the appropriate manager, without having been lobbied by other parties.
The case was sent back to the same Tribunal to decide whether in fact HR’s influence was improper and, if so, whether it had a material effect on Mr Goodchild’s decision to dismiss Mr Ramphal.
This case confirms that guidance from HR in disciplinary proceedings should be limited to matters of law and procedure. HR should avoid straying into areas of culpability. This means that it is not for HR to advise whether a sanction should be gross misconduct or misconduct. If HR does influence the final disciplinary decision, this could affect the outcome in a subsequent unfair dismissal claim.
17 November 2015