HR – Beware!

A number of recent Employment Tribunal claims have considered the role of Human Resources (HR) and its role in disciplinary investigations.

The cases of Ramphal v Department of Transport [2015] IRLR 985 and Dronsfield v University of Reading UKEAT/0200/15 have confirmed that HR should take a precautionary approach to their involvement with disciplinary investigations.

Ramphal emphasised that HR has essentially a supporting role in disciplinary investigations, which includes to advise on matters of law, procedure and consistency and not on questions of culpability. Amongst other things, HR should not express or imply personal opinion as to whether a person is guilty or innocent. In addition, an investigating officer is responsible for their own investigatory report, not HR, which was further explored in Dronsfield.

These two cases show the potential for employees to challenge an employer’s investigation process, including the roles and responsibilities of those involved.

Often the role of HR and their involvement in disciplinary processes can be misunderstood. It is essential that the correct procedure is followed when handling disciplinary issues in the workplace; most notably employers should:

  • Establish the facts of each case;
  • Inform the employee of the problem;
  • Hold a meeting with the employee to discuss the problem;
  • Allow the employee to be accompanied at the meeting;
  • Decide on appropriate action; and
  • Provide employees with an opportunity to appeal.

The problems that were encountered in these cases have at their root a misunderstanding of the role of HR. HR should support the disciplinary process but should not (unless they are the investigatory officer) influence or determine the investigation itself. HR should not substitute its own view for that of the investigatory officer or indeed the decision maker in a disciplinary process.

If you have any questions arising from this article or would like further information on disciplinary procedure and UK employment law, please get in touch with a member of our Employment Team.