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Fair reasons for dismissal

Dismissal from a job is often difficult, and usually comes with disappointment, anger or outrage, and worry about the future, whether another job will be found quickly and the financial uncertainty that comes with the loss of a regular income.

Dismissal from a job can be for many reasons. Often the reason behind the dismissal will affect how you feel and what happens next. If you believe that what has happened was justified, or if you didn’t like the job and wanted rid of it anyway, you might feel that the dismissal was reasonable and fair.

However, as well as felling ‘right’, dismissals must, by law, be fair. Regardless of how you feel about your dismissal, if it was unfair then by law you may be due compensation or another remedy.

What is a ‘fair’ reason for dismissal?

Employers are entitled to dismiss someone in several different circumstances. Principally an employer must have a good reason to dismiss an employee for it to be fair by law. Good reasons include problems with an employee’s capability or conduct, redundancy, or a problem that might prevent an employee doing their job, such as losing their driving licence.

According to the Employment Rights Act 1996 there are five fair reasons for dismissal: conduct, capability, redundancy, breach of a statutory restriction and a catch-all provision described as ‘some other substantial reason of a kind to justify the dismissal’.

The final catch-all term encompasses situations such as a breakdown in trust between employer and employee, when an employee refuses to accept a change in terms and conditions, or something like a personality clash between employees.

If my employer has a fair reason, is the dismissal always fair?

Even if your employer has a good, fair reason for a dismissal, a dismissal will not be fair unless they also follow the correct procedure for dismissal. Usually this means that your employer must follow the disciplinary process correctly. This usually means following the right processes, allowing the employee to be accompanied at any hearings, and offering a chance to appeal.

Your employer should have a full disciplinary process set out in writing, and it should have been made available to you. If this was not the case, your employer may be ordered to pay you compensation for your dismissal.

Can I ever be dismissed without following normal procedures?

Sometimes an employer may enact a summary dismissal, meaning you are dismissed without warning or notice. This is usually due to gross misconduct, and would be for serious problems such as if you were caught committing theft, for example.

Generally speaking even if you are summarily dismissed your employer should still follow a fair procedure, including a hearing, an offer of an appeal, and other processes detailed in the disciplinary hearing. You will usually be suspended whilst this process is carried out. You should still receive full pay, unless your employment contract says otherwise.

If I think my dismissal was unfair, can I make a claim?

If your dismissal was due to your being pregnant, or you believe it was because of discrimination due to your age, race, gender or sexuality then this is automatically unfair and you will always have a claim for unfair dismissal.

However, in all other circumstances there is a qualifying period, which means that you must have worked for your employer for a certain amount of time before you can claim unfair dismissal.

The qualifying period for unfair dismissal (which does not apply to automatically unfair dismissals) is one year if you started work before 6 April 2012, and two years if you started your job after 6 April 2012.

Further reading

Acas – Fair and unfair dismissals 

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