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Unfair dismissal


Don’t let the fat cats give you the boot for no reason. Know the difference between fair and unfair dismissal – you might just have a case.

Dismissal means a job has been terminated, by:

  • The employer (with or without notice)
  • The employee’s resignation because the employer makes it impossible for you to carry on working (also called constructive dismissal)
  • The end of a fixed-term contract that is not renewed
  • The employer refusing to allow the worker to return to work after maternity leave or going on strike
  • Redundancy, whether it is voluntary or forced
  • Resignation, under pressure from your employer
  • Self dismissal. An employer may argue that you have dismissed yourself by behaving in a way that brings the contract to an end. But unless it’s obvious that you have actually resigned, you will have been dismissed by your employer
  • Being laid off or put on short-time working when your contract does not allow for this

It may be fair dismissal if:

Unfair dismissal means losing your job for these reasons:

  • Being a trade union member or taking part in their activities
  • Exercising (or trying to exercise) a statutory employment protection right
  • Taking (or trying to take) some actions on health and safety grounds
  • Matters of pregnancy and maternity
  • Retail or betting-shop workers refusing (or trying to refuse) to work on a Sunday (except in Scotland)
  • ‘Whistle-blowing’ on a matter of public concern at work
  • Doing jury service, unless your employer said this would have a serious effect on the business and you didn’t ask for it to be deferred or excused
  • Some matters relating to sex, race and disability discrimination

Correct procedure for dismissal

In most circumstances, if your employer wants to dismiss you or discipline you, they must follow proper dismissal and disciplinary procedures laid down by law. Before dismissing or disciplining you, your employer must:

  • Send you a written statement, telling you why they want to dismiss or discipline you
  • Hold a meeting with you to discuss the matter
  • Hold an appeal meeting with you, if you want to appeal against your employer’s decision

After the meeting, your employer must make a final decision about what they’re going to do and inform you of the outcome. You should be allowed to take someone with you to disciplinary hearings or meetings, such as a union representative or a colleague of your choice.

If they are dismissing you, your employer must tell you when the dismissal is to take effect and how much notice they are giving you. They don’t have to do this in writing, but it would be good practice to do so. Notice of dismissal must be given directly to you and not through a third party, such as your trade union.

If your employer does not follow the proper procedures, any dismissal will be automatically unfair and you will be able to make a claim for unfair dismissal to an employment tribunal (as long as you have worked for your employer for at least a year). If you win your case, the tribunal will increase the compensation awarded to you because your employer did not follow the procedure.

Jen was sacked from her job at a record company after falling out with her manager. “I wasn’t given any kind of warning. The boss handed me a cheque and said if I refused it and he had to fire me, I wouldn’t get any money.” A local legal centre helped her apply to take the company to an employment tribunal. “They kept insisting I hadn’t been fired. Then, three days before the tribunal, they agreed a £10,000 settlement.”

If you think you have been unfairly dismissed:

  • Act quickly, and know your rights. You must make a complaint to an employment tribunal (industrial tribunal in Northern Ireland) within three calendar months of the date of dismissal
  • Try to come to an agreement with the employer. There may be a company grievance procedure that you can go through. If this fails, go to step three
  • Get advice from a conciliation officer at the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service(Acas) on 08457 474747 or your local Citizens Advice Bureau
  • Take the employer to an employment tribunal. If you win your case you may be reinstated (get your job back) or be paid compensation. You must apply within three months of officially losing your job. To get proper compensation, you will have to prove that you tried to work things out with the employer before you applied for the tribunal.

Updated: 07/09/2012

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