In an important reminder to HR departments to avoid unduly influencing the findings of internal disciplinary reports, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has held that a Claimant should be allowed to appeal against a decision to reject his unfair dismissal claim after procedural errors were uncovered that had led to an employee being summarily dismissed.
In Dronsfield v University of Reading, the Claimant was sacked after having an inappropriate sexual relationship with a student whom he continued to supervise. In breach of university policy, Dr Dronsfield failed to inform his employer of the incident, citing poor relations with his manager which he felt would be prejudicial to his case, and maintaining that there had been a single encounter which did not constitute a ‘relationship’.
An internal investigation found that Dr Dronsfield had not initiated the encounter and had not displayed any predatory intent but concluded that his relationship with senior staff did not justify his failure to report the incident, in apparent breach of university rules.
The report had initially included the finding that Dr Dronsfield’s behaviour had not been ‘immoral, scandalous or disgraceful’ but the EAT found that this and other comments favourable to the Claimant’s case had been redacted following the involvement of both the HR team and in house legal counsel. Concluding that the ET had failed to question why these changes had been made, the EAT held that due consideration had not therefore been given to whether the dismissal was fair. Dr Dronsfield’s appeal was allowed.
The case highlights the need for transparency and fairness in disciplinary proceedings and underlines the balance that HR and legal teams must strike between providing advice and guidance and allowing the investigating manager to draw their own independent conclusions about the actions and behaviour of an employee.