When could HR guidance to a dismissing or investigating officer in disciplinary proceedings result in a finding of unfair dismissal. This issue was considered by the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) in the case of Ramphal v Department for Transport.
A manager was asked to conduct the disciplinary process for an employee accused of misconduct relating to expenses and the use of hire cars.
Although the manager did feel that the employee was guilty of misconduct he initially concluded that there were a number of factors favourable to the employee’s case that persuaded him that a final warning (rather than dismissal) was the appropriate sanction.
The manager was, however, inexperienced in dealing with disciplinary proceedings and therefore took advice from the company’s HR department before delivering his final decision.
The HR department appear to have persuaded the manager to take a more critical view of the employee’s conduct and to reject the favourable findings that he had previously made. In consultation with HR the decision was changed to one of gross misconduct and summary dismissal.
The EAT stressed that there are limits to the guidance that should be provided by an HR department and in this case that guidance strayed into areas of credibility and culpability when it should have been restricted to matters of the law and procedure.
In summary, the key principles that arise from this case are;
- A dismissing or investigating officer is entitled to take guidance from the HR department.
- Such HR advice should be limited to matters of law and procedure.
- HR advice should not seek to influence a manager on issues of culpability.
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