The recent case of Ramphal v Department for Transport emphasises the importance of limiting HR’s involvement in unfair dismissal investigations.
Mr Ramphal, an aviation security compliance inspector who was employed by the Department for Transport, was dismissed due to concerns over his expenses. Mr Ramphal subsequently made a
claim for unfair dismissal.
The investigation into Mr Ramphal’s dismissal was conducted by Mr Goodchild, a manager. On 11 September 2012, following the investigation, Mr Goodchild produced a draft report which concluded
that Mr Ramphal was guilty of misconduct.
Six months later, after ongoing communications with HR on the draft report during which positive comments were replaced with critical comments, the report into Mr Ramphal’s conduct was
finalised. The final report concluded that Mr Ramphal was guilty of gross misconduct (rather than misconduct, as had been concluded in the original report) and Mr Ramphal should therefore be summarily dismissed.
The employment tribunal found the dismissal was fair.
On appeal, Mr Ramphal relied upon the Supreme Court’s decision in matter of
West London Mental Health NHS Trust v Chhabra. In that case, it was held that there was an implied contractual right to a fair disciplinary process, and that although human resources could provide advice on
questions of procedure, “the report had to be the product of the case investigator”.
Ramphal, the EAT found that there was an inference of improper influence and decided that the case should be remitted back to the same employment tribunal for reconsideration on the point.
The case of Ramphal is a useful reminder to human resources practitioners, and those individuals advising businesses on internal matters, of their remit in these
situations, which should not stray outside of employment law and procedure. In particular, the advice should not be on the outcome (other than to inform the decision maker of how the employee deals or has dealt with similar matters).