30 November 2015
EAT gives guidance on due process and unfair dismissal
The vital importance of due process in internal disciplinary inquiries has been underlined by a case in which a civil servant was sacked in circumstances where the lynchpin decision maker's complete volte-face gave rise to an inference that he had been subjected to inappropriate lobbying (Ramphal v Department for Transport).
Mr Ramphal was employed by the Department for Transport as an Aviation Security Compliance Inspector. He was accused of misconduct in relation to his expenses and use of hire cars, and a manager, Mr Goodchild, was appointed to investigate the matter and to dismiss him if necessary. The latter's initial report contained a number of findings in Mr Ramphal's favour, including that any misconduct on his part was not deliberate. On the basis that his conduct was not serious enough to constitute gross misconduct, the report recommended that he be issued with a final written warning.
However, following communications between Mr Goodchild and the Human Resources (HR) department, he had a change of heart. In his final report, the previous favourable findings were removed. He said that he was minded to conclude that Mr Ramphal was guilty of gross misconduct and recommended his dismissal.
Mr Ramphal was summarily dismissed on the basis of that report and an Employment Tribunal (ET) subsequently rejected his unfair dismissal claim. In allowing his appeal, however, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) noted the paucity of evidence as to what it was that persuaded Mr Goodchild to change his views so radically.
The HR department appeared to have persuaded Mr Goodchild to take a more critical view of Mr Ramphal's conduct and to reject his explanations. There was thus an inference that he had been inappropriately lobbied and the ET had not given sufficient consideration as to what had led him to change his mind.
In giving guidance for the future, the EAT noted that, although investigating or dismissing officers are entitled to seek guidance from HR personnel or others, such advice should be limited to matters of law and procedure. In the case in point, the employee was entitled to expect that the decision would be made by the appropriate officer, free from lobbying, and that he would be notified of any changes in the case against him.
The matter was sent back to the same ET for reconsideration in the light of the EAT's decision.