The role of Human Resources in disciplinary proceedings continues to be a hot topic. Managers conducting a disciplinary investigation or hearing may need advice from HR. However, HR should confine their advice to technical matters such as the law and procedure. If HR try and influence the decision-maker or persuade the manager to dismiss, then this may make the dismissal unfair.
This is illustrated in the case of Mr Ramphal, who was unfairly dismissed from the Department for Transport. When an HR officer persuaded the dismissing manager to change his view of the sanction from a final written warning to dismissal.
This does not mean that HR can never be the decision-makers in a case. Some smaller businesses rely on HR professionals to conduct investigations and even disciplinary hearings and appeals. The trick is to make sure that the role of HR is clearly defined. If an HR professional conducts the investigation for example, then they should not advise the manager on the disciplinary hearing or appeal. The procedure should be fair and transparent. The employee must be given the opportunity to put his case to the true decision-maker.
In a case involving Arnold Clark Automobiles Limited v Mr D Spoor. Different members of HR were the decision-makers at the investigation, dismissal and appeal stages. This was acceptable. However, the dismissal of Mr Spoor was still unfair. The HR professional who conducted the disciplinary hearing did not take account of Mr Spoor’s long service (42 years), and exemplary record when dismissing him for physical violence.
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