In the recent case of Ramphal –v- Department for Transport, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (“EAT”) held that a dismissal was potentially unfair where it had been too heavily influenced by the HR department. The case has serious implications on the limit to HR’s role in dismissal cases.

Facts

Mr Ramphal (“R”) worked for the Department for Transport (“DFT”) in a mobile role for which he was entitled to have a hire car and to use a company credit card for the car and other expenses.

In June 2012, R was investigated over his expenses. DFT appointed Mr Goodchild (“G”) to investigate and decide disciplinary action in respect of R. G met with HR staff at DFT to seek advice regarding the procedure.

The disciplinary meeting took place in August 2012 and in September 2012 G submitted a draft report to HR with his findings. In the draft report, he found that R was partly culpable and should receive a final warning.

Over the next six months the draft report was sent between HR and G and substantially revised by HR who removed favourable comments G had made regarding R and replaced them with critical comments. The decision was changed by HR to one of summary dismissal for gross misconduct.

R brought an unfair dismissal claim. The Employment Tribunal (“ET”), rejecting the claim, decided that the employer’s investigation and decision to dismiss were reasonable in the circumstances.

Appeal

On appeal the EAT found that the ET had been wrong. Following an earlier Court of Appeal decision, it found that it was implicit in a conduct case that HR is limited to advising on issues of procedure and law. They should not, in effect, be involved in deciding culpability which was for the disciplinary officer to decide.

What does this mean for you?

HR officers often play a substantial role in cases where employees are eventually dismissed. Their role is generally a support one but often managers can be greatly influenced by HR given the latter’s experience of dealing with employment law issues.

This case illustrates that care should be taken to avoid employees being able to allege that their dismissal is unfair because it was effectively decided (or overly influenced) by the HR department.

One advantage of using a solicitor for advice is that, unlike the advice being given by the HR department in this case, it is legally privileged and therefore not disclosable in legal proceedings.

If you have any queries in relation to this or any other employment related matter, you should contact your employment law solicitor or alternatively please do call us on 01483 411 533 or enquiries@employ.law