Wed 16 Oct 2019

Altered Investigation Report Did Not Make Dismissal Unfair

An adequate investigation is an essential part of a fair dismissal procedure.  That usually includes collating all of the evidence and making a recommendation as to whether there is a case to answer - in other words whether formal disciplinary action should be taken.  Evaluative opinions on the evidence should though be left to the disciplinary hearing decision maker.

In Dronsfield v The University of Reading the claimant was a professor who was dismissed following a complaint arising from him having a sexual relationship with a student - something that he had admitted to.  The University had detailed guidance on relationships between staff and students and the only reason for dismissal flowing from that was if conduct was of an "immoral, scandalous or disgraceful nature incompatible with the duties of the office or employment" (the "immoral conduct"). 

The draft investigation report included an expression of opinion that the claimant's behaviour did not amount to the immoral conduct necessary to justify a dismissal and a number of other favourable comments. This opinion was though removed on the advice of the in-house solicitor.  The disciplinary panel, which only saw the altered report, subsequently dismissed the claimant.  When he appealed the draft investigation report was produced but the appeal was still unsuccessful. 

A claim for unfair dismissal was unsuccessful, but following an appeal to the EAT, the case was sent back to the tribunal to consider the reasons for the report being altered.  The tribunal held it had been fair and reasonable for the University to have their solicitor advise the investigator, it was reasonable for the investigator to act on that advice and the unfair dismissal claim was again unsuccessful. 

The EAT dismissed a further appeal by the claimant.   The investigators had accepted the advice of the in-house solicitor that evaluative conclusions should be left to the disciplinary panel.  There was no suggestion any evidential material had been withheld from the investigation and submissions about the changes to the report were considered at the internal appeal stage and an argument that the changes made the dismissal more likely had been rejected. 

This case shows the dangers of investigators over stepping their limits.  While in this case the opinions were favourable to the claimant, had they not been he would no doubt have been happy for them to be excluded prior to the disciplinary hearing.  Had unfavourable opinions been included, he might well have had grounds for claiming unfair dismissal on the basis that the matter had been pre-judged.  It is important that those carrying out investigations understand the limits of their role.

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