What is the HR adviser’s role in a disciplinary scenario?
In the case of Ramphal -v- Department for Transport, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) considered the correct limits to a HR adviser’s role in disciplinary situations.
For those employers with HR functions, the case provides helpful guidance on exactly how much involvement and influence a HR department should have.
The central issue before the EAT was whether the Tribunal had properly considered an inference that the HR Adviser had inappropriately influenced the dismissing officer as to the guilt of the claimant and as to the appropriate sanction to impose.
The EAT acknowledged that HR departments are routinely involved in disciplinary investigations but underlined that HR advisers should:
- limit their advice to questions of law, procedure and process;
- not provide advice on questions of culpability;
- not advise on what an appropriate sanction would be, other than addressing issues of consistency with previous decisions; and
- not take it on themselves to reach a decision about the employee’s guilt or otherwise (that is for the disciplinary officer).
Those in HR should bear in mind that if they exercise significant influence in the outcome of an investigation and disciplinary process, they could potentially undermine the fairness of the investigation process which might in turn result in an unfair dismissal. This could happen if it appears that HR reached the decision on the employee’s ‘guilt’ or otherwise, rather than the disciplinary officer.
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