The Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) have recently looked at how far human resources staff should go in advising managers about disciplinary decisions in Ramphal v Department for Transport UKEAT/0352/14.

Mr Ramphal was employed as an aviation security compliance inspector by the Department for Transport (DFT). The DFT suspected possible misconduct on the part of Mr Ramphal with regards to his expenses and, as such, instigated an investigation. The manager in charge of the investigation, Mr Goodchild, was inexperienced in taking charge of such investigations. After his initial findings, which found that Mr Ramphal should be given a final written warning after finding certain factors in favour of Mr Ramphal, Mr Goodchild consulted further with the DFT’s HR department for further advice. Following this consultation, the outcome was changed from a final written warning to a dismissal for gross misconduct and the initial favourable findings found were replaced with critical findings.

Mr Ramphal appealed the decision and brought a claim against the DFT for unfair dismissal.

The Employment Tribunal (ET) stated that, in consulting with the HR department, Mr Goodchild sought to ensure that the decision he made was the correct one. The judge concluded that the investigation was based on a reasonable amount of investigation and that the outcome of the investigation was reasonable. Mr Ramphal appealed this decision.

The EAT, relying on Chhabra v West London Mental Health NHS Trust [2014] ICR 194, concluded that the HR advice provided to Mr Goodchild went over and above what was required – to the point that it influenced and invited changes to the outcome. The EAT decided that the ET’s decision was wrong and that the matter should return to the ET for further consideration.

This case highlights the role of the HR department and how influential their advice can be in situations such as investigations. HR departments can be critical assets for managers not up to date with current procedure and law. However, this case also highlights that HR departments and their personnel need to be aware of their limitations so as to avoid unduly influencing an investigation – otherwise an ensuing dismissal can be deemed unfair.