The role of others in an investigation report
Doctor Dronsfield was dismissed by the University for failing to disclose his sexual relationship with a student. His unfair dismissal case brought into question the involvement of HR and legal teams in the disciplinary process.
Dronsfield v University of Reading
Doctor Dronsfield was dismissed by the University for failing to disclose his sexual relationship with a student. His unfair dismissal case brought into question the involvement of HR and legal teams in the disciplinary process. In particular, what was the effect of the investigation report having been altered after matters were discussed with them?
A case called Ramphal v Department for Transport had considered a similar point and emphasised that, ultimately, it’s for the disciplining officer to make their own decision. The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) echoed that in this case. The final version of the investigation report contained significant amendments – notably, opinions favourable to Dr Dronsfield were removed following discussions with HR and in-house legal teams. Although there was no reason to doubt that that final version represented the disciplining officer’s genuine conclusions after receiving honest and unbiased advice, the simple removal of those opinions was problematic.
The tribunal ought to have asked whether or not the report included all conclusions reached as a result of the investigation and, if not, why not. It is now for a new tribunal to decide the fairness or otherwise of the dismissal.
Legal and HR advice is routinely sought in disciplinary situations, and rightly so. But this case shows that employers and their advisors must tread carefully in supporting the investigating officer, whose decision and reasoning must stand up to scrutiny.
The EAT made some important observations:
1. As set out in the Ramphal case, HR advice should only be about the law, procedure and process. It shouldn’t stray into questions of culpability or of appropriate sanctions.
2. It would have been good practice for the person with whom Dr Dronsfield had had the sexual relationship to be contacted as part of the investigation and asked if they wished to contribute to it.