HR advice - know your limits

Managers asked to investigate a disciplinary matter often feel significantly out of their comfort zone and seek the advice and support of their HR team.  A sensible approach one would think, but a recent case is an important reminder of the dangers of HR seeking to step into the shoes of the investigating officer or chair of a disciplinary matter.

In Ramphal v Department for Transport, Mr Ramphal faced allegations of fraudulent expenses claims.  The manager investigating the claims prepared a draft report in which he found that Mr Ramphal had not deliberately made fraudulent claims and that his explanations were 'plausible.'  In the circumstances, he recommended a written warning for misconduct.

Following a review by the HR team, the recommendation was changed to dismissal for gross misconduct.  Mr Ramphal was dismissed and brought a claim of unfair dismissal.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal ruled that the interference of the HR team in this decision may have made the dismissal unfair.   It is acceptable for the HR team to advise on the relevant law, the procedure to be followed and the process.  HR officers must however resist the temptation to influence the outcome of an investigation or disciplinary decision.  HR officers should only advise on sanctions to ensure a consistent approach is taken within the organisation and should not advice on culpability.

However tempting it may be to allow your HR team to take the reins in a disciplinary matter, doing so may make a resulting dismissal unfair.

Petra Venton