Whitehall HR failings let sacked staff off the hook

Increasing numbers of civil service staff are overturning dismissals because government HR departments are failing to follow statutory dismissal procedures, an official report has revealed.

The annual report by the Civil Service Appeal Board (CSAB) showed that more than one-fifth of all disciplinary cases involving appeals during 2005-06 were deemed ‘unfair’ – a rise of 15% on the previous year.

Of 253 appeals considered by the CSAB last year, 55 found in favour of the appellant – including 10 cases where the board demanded that the employee be reinstated immediately.

The statutory procedures were introduced by the government in October 2004, requiring employers to follow a three-step process when disciplining or dismissing staff. Failure to follow these steps automatically renders a dismissal unfair.

CSAB chairman John Davies, a former HR director at Barclays Bank, said in the report: “It is clear that departments and agencies do not always appreciate the importance of respecting the standard statutory procedures and it has, perhaps, not been fully appreciated that if there is a breach the board has no choice other than to find the dismissal automatically unfair.”

The strongly worded report will increase the pressure on under-fire Whitehall HR departments. Recent capability reviews, introduced by cabinet secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell, highlighted poor people management and inadequate HR provision at the heart of government failings.

Davies also criticises the time taken by some departments to complete disciplinary procedures – in several instances, more than a year. He called these delays “at variance with the principles of natural justice”.

He also accused some managers of using appeals to “justify and uphold” original decisions, rather than objectively look at the facts of the case.

A Cabinet Office spokeswoman said: “We have received the report and will consider these issues.”

Most appeals heard (by department)

HM Revenue and Customs 50

HM Prison Service 46

Jobcentre Plus 37

Department for Work and Pensions 21

Immigration and Nationality Directorate 13

Source: CSAB annual report 2005/06

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