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HR influence in disciplinary investigations could result in unfair dismissal

It is recognised that HR departments are routinely involved in disciplinary investigations. However, the recent case of Ramphal v Department for Transport has emphasised the importance of HR's advisory and impartial role in such situations. It is essential for businesses and their HR Departments to be aware of the scope of HR involvement in such situations.

Case Summary

As part of a disciplinary investigation into Mr Ramphal's conduct, the appointed investigatory and disciplinary officer sent a first draft of his report to the company's HR Department. The report included some favourable comments, concluded a finding of misconduct and gave a recommendation of a final warning. However, after heavily involving the HR Department with the investigation, the officer had removed favourable comments, concluded gross negligence and recommended a sanction of dismissal for gross misconduct.

A claim was brought by Mr Ramphal against his employers for unfair dismissal.

The EAT agreed with Mr Ramphal that the investigatory and disciplinary officer's decision to dismiss him was heavily influenced by the HR Department, thus flouting the principle that a disciplinary report must be a product of the officer's own investigations. This resulted in the appeal of the original decision being allowed and the case remitted for rehearing.

Advice for employers

This case demonstrates the importance of HR departments, as well as investigating officers, being correctly advised or reminded of their distinctive roles in investigations. Their roles and responsibilities are defined as follows:

  • Dismissing or investigating officers can seek guidance or advice from HR. However, this advice must be strictly limited to law and procedure.
  • The role of HR must remain impartial; they must not advise or comment on the culpability of the employee.
  • Investigating officers must ensure that their report and conclusions are a result of their own independent investigations and not influenced by impartial advice from colleagues or HR.

Significant influence from HR, or indeed advice outside the scope of procedural or legal guidance during a disciplinary investigation, compromises the investigation. Should an incorrectly conducted investigation result in the dismissal of an employee, it is likely that such a dismissal will be found to be unfair by the tribunal.

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