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Disciplinary Proceedings - how much can your HR team be involved?

View profile for Amy Edwards
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This was a question posed in the Employment Appeal Tribunal in the case of Ramphal v Department for Transport [2015] UKEAT/0352/14/DA, where it was found that a dismissing or investigating officer could seek guidance and advice from HR, provided always that such advice was limited to questions of law and procedure rather than the liability of the employee and the level of any sanction that should be imposed.

Mr Ramphal was employed by the Department for Transport as an Aviation Security Compliance Inspector. The Department of Transport launched an investigation into possible misconduct by Mr Ramphal in relation to the use of hired cars and excessive expense claims.

Mr Goodchild, a manager, was appointed to conduct the investigation into these allegations and act as the dismissing officer, if necessary. Mr Goodchild had little experience in disciplinary proceedings and while preparing his report, subsequently sought advice from the Department for Transport’s HR department. However, the advice he received from HR was not just on the law and procedure, but went on further to question Mr Ramphal’s credibility, accountability and also suggested appropriate levels of sanction. 

It was found by the EAT that the first draft of Mr Goodchild’s report contained a number of findings in favour of Mr Ramphal. He found that Mr Ramphal’s misuse was not deliberate (and there was no evidence to suggest otherwise) and that he believed Mr Ramphal’s justifications for the excessive fuel use was credible. Mr Goodchild therefore concluded that Mr Ramphal’s actions amount to misconduct rather than gross misconduct and that he believed Mr Ramphal should receive a final written warning.

However, following communications between HR and Mr Goodchild, Mr Goodchild’s outlook on the matter became more critical and in his final report he concluded that Mr Ramphal was guilty of gross misconduct due to misuse of the corporate card and hire cars.

On conclusion, it was found by the EAT that no new evidence had come to light after the initial report, which had swayed Mr Goodchild to change his original recommendations. The EAT instead found evidence to support that the presence and involvement of HR sought to persuade Mr Goodchild to take a more critical view towards Mr Ramphal which included now rejecting previously accepted explanations by Mr Ramphal for certain expenditure.

Amy says “this case is a clear example of the importance of ensuring complete independence for a fair hearing. Although this case has ruled that a dismissing or investigating officer is entitled to seek guidance from Human Resources, such advice can only be limited to questions of law and procedure and should go no further. An employee facing a disciplinary is entitled to expect that a fair decision will be made by the relevant officer undertaking the hearing, without having been influenced by other parties. This case also shows the importance of the disclosure of documents in Tribunal proceedings and how even internal communications are discloseable.”

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