Scope of HR role in disciplinaries

Ramphal v Department for Transport

Mr Ramphal was suspected of misconduct relating to his expenses and use of hire cars. The manager who was appointed to carry out the investigation and disciplinary was inexperienced and turned to HR for help. So far, so good.

The problems for the employer began when the HR officer’s input went further than just advising on the law, procedure and sanctions. In this case, HR appeared to have given advice on issues around Mr Ramphal’s credibility and culpability. A step too far?

Yes, held the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT). Drafts of the manager’s report had become more critical of Mr Ramphal following communications with HR who seemed to have influenced the manager’s views. The manager had initially concluded that Mr Ramphal was guilty of misconduct and should receive a final written warning. However, that was later changed to gross misconduct and dismissal, seemingly at the behest of HR.

While it is fine for a dismissing or investigating officer to ask for guidance, that guidance should be limited to law and procedure and to making sure that everything has been addressed and that there is clarity.
An employee in Mr Ramphal’s position is entitled to expect that the investigating officer will make their own decision, without being lobbied by others, held the EAT. They should also be given notice of changes to the case against them so that they can address them properly.