Unfair dismissal in the UK is when your employer terminates your contract without having a legally fair reason to. It can also be used when your employer terminates your contract of employment with fair reason, but handles your dismissal incorrectly. In either circumstance, there are laws that protect you.
To qualify to bring an unfair dismissal claim in the Employment Tribunal a person must meet a number of criteria:
- They must be an employee (rather than self-employed or, in most cases, working through an agency)
- They must normally have at least two years continuous employment (subject to certain exceptions)
- They must be in employment that has a sufficient connection to Great Britain
- They are within the 3 month time primary limit for bringing a claim to the Employment Tribunal
Employment tribunals follow certain guidelines that contain reasons why a person can be fired or dismissed. These are Capability, Conduct, Redundancy, Breaking the Law and “any other reason”. Each of these factors also include specific detail, with ‘any other reason’ being interpreted on a per-case basis.
Capability – refers to the competence of an employee, and may include their health or qualifications, particularly if they initially lied in interviews.
Conduct – this includes the employee’s actions at work, such as misdemeanours, abusive or racist behaviour, unauthorised absence, poor punctuality and theft from the company
Redundancy – employers are required to have a clear redundancy policy and follow this policy. An employer cannot be seen to target a single individual for redundancy or make redundancies at random.
Breaking The Law – refers to breaches of Civil or Criminal Law committed outside of work hours, as employees can be dismissed due to gross misconduct or damaging the name of the firm.
Any other reason – this is the “catch-all” situation, which includes the specific and different ways you may be dismissed outside of the other reasons above. For example, an important client of the company may want you to be dismissed, or an employee may refuse to work with a certain colleague or with certain equipment. This reason is deliberately vague in scope, offering some protection to the employer against employees purposefully seeking dismissal in order to make a claim.
Another common reason, not listed above, is constructive dismissal. This refers to the situation when an employer gives you no other choice but to resign, typically because of abusive or intimidating behaviour. A successful Constructive Dismissal claim requires a lot of evidence to prove.
Most employers will “play by the book” when it comes to dismissals in order to avoid employment tribunal claims. This requires them to follow a formal and reasonable dismissal procedure as outlined in your contract of employment or employee handbook. Most dismissal procedures will include verbal and written warnings, documented attempts as resolving the situation, an opportunity for the employee to defend themselves and a final warning prior to dismissal.
An employment tribunal will expect your employee to give you a fair indication of any disputes and made a serious and reasonable attempt at resolving it, in line with their formal policy. Employers cannot use one set of rules for one employee and different rules for another. This is not the case for gross misconduct, where an employer can dismiss you without warning and ‘on the spot’.