1. Know your notice period
They must give you sufficient notice before dismissing you. Notice periods are often contained within an employment contract, but if not, you are entitled to a minimum statutory notice period, based on your length of service, as detailed below (these minimum notice periods also apply to staff on probation):
|Length of time worked for employer
||Amount of notice you must give
|Less than one month
||No notice period, though the employee is entitled to “reasonable” notice, which will often be based on how often they are paid. Best practice is to give one weeks’ notice.
|One month or more
||One weeks’ notice
|Two years or more
||Two weeks’ notice
|Every additional year beyond two years
||One additional week’s notice, up to a maximum of 12 weeks
2. Understand fair and unfair reasons for dismissal
Fair reasons for dismissal
Your employer must abide by certain rules for a dismissal to be considered fair in the eyes of the law. If they do not dismiss someone in a fair manner then you could make a claim for unfair dismissal. If you have two years of continuous service, you are eligible to bring a claim for unfair dismissal.
Your employer must abide by certain rules for a dismissal to be considered fair in the eyes of the law.
Whether a dismissal is fair or unfair depends on the reason for the dismissal, and how the dismissal is carried out. To establish a fair dismissal they must have a potentially fair reason for dismissing an employee. Reasons which can serve as grounds for a fair dismissal include:
- The employee is incapable of doing the job to the standard required (capability);
- Their conduct has been questionable (conduct);
- Redundancy (see below);
- There are legal reasons why they are unable to do the job, such as losing a driving licence (illegality);
- If it is no longer possible to continue employing the person, for example because a customer of the business refuses to work with that person (known as ‘some other substantial reason’).
Unfair reasons for dismissal
There are a number of reasons for dismissal which are known as ‘automatically unfair’. For example, you cannot be dismissed fairly because:
- You are pregnant or on maternity leave, or any reason related to this;
- You take time off for family reasons;
- You act as an employee representative, trade union representative or occupational pension scheme trustee;
- You have joined or not joined a trade union;
- You are working part-time or on a fixed-term contract;
- You assert certain statutory rights for example relating to pay and working hours;
- You report on wrongdoing at work (whistleblowing).
Dismissing an employee for any of these reasons will automatically be deemed unfair without the employee needing to be employed for any particular length of time (see below).
For a dismissal to be fair the employer must act ‘reasonably’ throughout the process and (if there is one), the preceding disciplinary process.
In the case of employees taking strike action, it is automatically unfair to dismiss an employee for taking official strike action within 12 weeks of the action commencing, or if it has lasted more than 12 weeks and the employer hasn’t taken reasonable steps to resolve the dispute.
3. Know the dismissal process inside out
For a dismissal to be fair the employer must act ‘reasonably’ throughout the process and (if there is one), the preceding disciplinary process. While reasonable behaviour in this context is not defined in any statute, for an employment tribunal to find that an employer has acted fairly they must ensure:
- They have a reasonable belief that the reason for the dismissal was established;
- They have carried out proper investigations when appropriate (in conduct matters in particular) and best practice is to carry out an investigation meeting;
- Minutes are taken of all meetings and shared with the employee;
- That the employee is given all of the documentation that has been gathered during the course of the investigation and the process including minutes of meetings, witness statements and emails;
- They have followed the relevant policies and procedures including any procedures in their own handbook, employment contract and as a minimum the Acas Code of Practice;
- They have provided you with reasonable notice ahead of any meetings to allow you time to prepare;
- That reasonable adjustments to the process are considered for any employees that are disabled or suffering with mental impairments;
- That they inform you as to why you are being considered for dismissal and listen to your views on the matter before arriving at a decision;
- You are allowed to be accompanied at any hearings by a colleague or a trade union representative. In some cases, an employee with a disability or a particularly sensitive issue may request to be accompanied by a friend or family member. There is no legal requirement here but it can be considered;
- They have given you the chance to appeal.
The organisation’s disciplinary and dismissal policy should at the least accord with the Acas code of practice for disciplinary and grievance procedures. These are not legally binding, but are the best practice guide that an employment tribunal will expect an employer to follow.
If an employer does not follow the code and is unsuccessful in defending the claim, a tribunal has discretion to increase the level of compensation awarded to the employee.
4. What if you’re sick?
Your ability to do your job may be affected by a long-term illness. It is important your employer works with you to ascertain whether there are any alternatives to dismissal. They should try to help you back to work by:
- Asking you for a medical report from your GP to gain a better understanding of your condition, symptoms and limitations;
- Arranging an occupational health assessment;
- Determining whether you are considered disabled under the Equality Act 2010 and making reasonable adjustments to help you carry out your role;
- Consider a reduced working pattern, a change to working hours, a change in the location or department if this would assist. Is there any equipment that could be provided to support you?
If reasonable adjustments cannot help you to do your job, it may be fair for them to dismiss you, even if you are categorised as disabled under the Equality Act 2010. However, they must still ensure that a fair procedure is followed and they must follow their own policies when it comes to managing ill health at work.
If the employment tribunal finds that an unfair dismissal has taken place then they can order the employer to reinstate the employee to their old job or to find a new job for them at the company.
5. Fighting back: claiming for unfair dismissal
If you believe you have been dismissed unfairly, you can lodge a claim at an employment tribunal, who will make a judgment on whether the dismissal was fair or unfair.
Unless you were dismissed for an automatically unfair reason as mentioned above, you have worked for you for a minimum amount of time in order to be eligible to do so. This is shown in the table below.
|Date when employment started
||When employee can make a claim
|Before 6 April 2012
||After first year of employment
|After 6 April 2012
||After second year of employment
Certain groups of people are not eligible to claim unfair dismissal. These are:
- The self-employed
- Independent contractors
- Members of the armed forces
- Employees who have already reached a settlement about the dismissal with their employer through ACAS
- Those employed under an illegal contract
- Taking part in official industrial action, unless the reason is automatically unfair (see above)
- Police staff, except in cases relating to health and safety or whistleblowing
- Those who have signed a settlement agreement with their employer
- Workers on fishing boats who are paid out of the profits made by the boat.
If the employment tribunal finds that an unfair dismissal has taken place then they can order the employer to reinstate the employee to their old job, or to find a new job for them at the company, although in practice this is rare.
The employment tribunal can also order compensation to be paid. This will be made up of a basic award and a compensatory award. The amount of the basic award depends on factors such as the employee’s age, gross weekly pay and length of service. The basic award is the equivalent to a statutory redundancy payment.
An employee who is dismissed for gross misconduct generally forfeits their right to notice or a notice payment.
The compensatory award compensates the employee for the money lost due to losing their job, and is capped at £88,519 or a year’s gross salary, whichever is lower, for dismissals that took place on or after 6 April 2020. If the employee was dismissed between 6 April 2019 and 5 April 2020, the cap was £86,444 or a year’s salary, whichever was lower. These limits do not apply to cases relating to health and safety and whistleblowing. Compensation for dismissals here are uncapped.
Constructive unfair dismissal
Even if you resigned from your company, you may still be able to make a claim against them if they feel that your actions have forced you out or made their position untenable. This is known as constructive dismissal. Examples of situations which may lead to a claim for constructive dismissal include:
- Non-payment or late payment of wages;
- Changing working conditions without asking the employee;
- Harassment or insulting language.
Your employer may be guilty of wrongful dismissal if they dismiss you in breach of your rights under your contract of employment. This most commonly occurs when the employee is not given the notice stated in their contract or the procedure laid down in the contract for dismissal is not followed properly.
Even if no notice period is stated in your contract, you may still be able to base a claim on your statutory right to notice as set out above. An employee who is dismissed for gross misconduct generally forfeits their right to notice or a notice payment.
6. The rough guide to redundancy
Redundancy is when an employee is dismissed because a company no longer needs anyone to carry out that particular work, perhaps due to changes in the business such as a restructure or a downturn. If the role that an employee did is no longer available because the business or workplace closes down, this usually leads to a redundancy situation too. The employer will firstly need to show that the reason for the redundancy is genuine and the reasons mentioned above can be deemed as genuine.
You have certain rights in relation to redundancy. As well as possibly being entitled to redundancy pay (both statutory and contractual), you have the right to reasonable time off to look for a new job or arrange training and to not be unfairly selected for redundancy.
If they select someone for redundancy for any of the following reasons, then they may face a claim for unfair dismissal and/or discrimination:
- Marital status
- Sexual orientation
- Religion or belief
- Membership or non-membership of a trade union
- Health and safety activities
- Working pattern (e.g. part-time or fixed-term employees)
- Maternity leave, birth or pregnancy
- Paternity leave, parental or dependants leave
- Their exercise of their statutory rights
- Whistleblowing (e.g. making disclosures about wrongdoing)
- Taking part in lawful industrial action lasting 12 weeks or less
- Taking action on health and safety grounds
- Doing jury service
- Being trustee of a company pension scheme.
Even if they can show that the reason for the redundancy is genuine, they will also have to show that they have followed a fair procedure when they selected the employees for redundancy.
Common fair ways of selecting employees for redundancy include:
- Firstly asking for volunteers;
- Considering the pool of roles that are to be considered for redundancy;
- Devising an objective selection criteria to help them select employees for redundancy and one that is relevant to the pool;
- Providing guidance to accompany the selection criteria to ensure consistency is applied;
- Use previous appraisals, 1-1 evidence, assessments and supervisions as well as management feedback and indicators to assist with scoring against the selection criteria;
- Considering whether there have been any previous disciplinary issues;
- Considering skills, qualifications and experience as criteria.
Any member of staff that they choose to make redundant will be entitled to consultation on the matter, where you can discuss the reasons for their selection and any alternatives. If a selection criteria and scoring exercise have been carried out, they should share your performance with you.
If they are making more than 20 employees redundant then the consultation should take place with a representative, either from the trade union or elected from the workforce. There is also an obligation to report the redundancies to the Secretary of State for BEIS where more than 20 employees will be made redundant.
In addition to this, there is also a minimum consultation period where more than 20 employees will be made redundant. There is no minimum consultation period if less employees are to be made redundant, the consultation period should just be long enough for the employees to receive meaningful consultation.
Statutory redundancy pay should be paid to those who have been working for their current employer for two years or more. Employees should also check their employment contract to check whether they are entitled to any enhanced redundancy payments.
For the length of the consultation, the following minimums exist:
|For each year your employee was:
||They will receive:
||Half a week’s pay
|Between 22 and 41
||One weeks pay
||One and a half week’s pay
Certain caps do however apply to statutory redundancy pay. Length of service is capped at 20 years, while the maximum redundancy pay per week is £538 (from 6 April 2020). A maximum amount of a statutory redundancy payment is £16,140.00 from 6 April 2020).
The GOV.UK website offers a helpful employee redundancy calculator. However, it is important to note that an employer will not have to pay this to you if they offer to keep you on or find you suitable alternative employment.
As an employer they are obliged to give employees a minimum notice period before redundancy takes effect (see above). These are known as statutory notice periods and depend on your length of service with the company. Employees should also check their employment contract as their notice period may be longer.
Payment in lieu of notice
Instead of asking an employee to work during the notice period, it is possible for an employer to dismiss the employee immediately and make a payment to them for the notice period, providing there is a provision for this in their contract. This is known as a PILON clause (payment in lieu of notice clause).
Taking time off to find a job
If, by the time your employment ends, you have been working for the company for at least two years, you have the right to take a reasonable amount of time off in your notice period, in order to look for a new job or to sign up for training which will help you find employment.
What is considered ‘reasonable’ will vary on a case-by-case basis; there are no rules covering this, and you will have to reach an agreement with your employer.
Unless your employment contract states otherwise, they only have to pay you 40% of one week’s wage for any time you take off to find a job during your notice period. So, if you usually work five days a week and take six days off during your notice period for job-hunting, you will only be paid for two of those days – 40% of the five-day working week.
Upon the dismissal of an employee, that employee and their employer can enter into what is known as a Settlement Agreement. Through a settlement agreement the two parties can settle any employment claims that may be made by the employee after they leave or reach an agreement in contemplation of any claims being brought.
By entering into a settlement agreement the employee waives their right to make any claims, such as unfair dismissal.
Settlement agreements can be much simpler and stress-free to arrange than a claim that has to go through the courts or an employment tribunal. It is advisable to issue a settlement agreement where a substantial redundancy payment is being made or where a sum in excess of the legal requirement is being made to the employee.
Before reaching a settlement agreement with you, they must ensure that you have received legal advice from an independent adviser first. This adviser should be a qualified lawyer, a trade union representative or an advice centre representative.
By entering into a settlement agreement the employee waives their right to make any claims, such as unfair dismissal.
You should acquire a certificate from the adviser confirming that they have given advice to you on the terms and effect of the agreement. The advice will also confirm that the adviser has the necessary insurance.
Whilst not a legal requirement, is expected practice for an employer to provide a reasonable contribution to the cost of the employee’s legal fees. What is deemed reasonable is dependent on the seniority of the employee and the nature of the business. The contribution typically ranges from £350.00-£750.00 plus VAT.
Examples of terms that a settlement agreement may contain include:
- An amount of compensation offered to the employee;
- Assurances given by both the employer and employee;
- The parties refrain from making disparaging and/or derogatory remarks about the other whether in writing or orally;
- Indication that all terms have been accepted by the employee and that they will not take legal action in future;
- A letter of reference which can be used by the employee in future job applications;
- An agreed announcement in some cases;
- A ‘non-compete’ clause which places some restriction on the type of jobs the employee is able to apply for in the future and an extension of the contract of employment;
- Payment of tax;
- Confidentiality clause – i.e. that the employee cannot disclose some or all of the details of the agreement or the termination of their employment to anybody.
7. Don’t forget legal expenses insurance
Our personal legal expenses insurance (LEI) products could help you avoid expensive legal proceedings by providing you with unlimited legal advice regarding employment disputes. It could also take advantage of free or discounted access to hundreds of easy-to-customise legal documents, contracts and letters.
Should you eventually need to submit a claim to the employment tribunal, however, legal expenses insurance could also provide cover for legal costs. There are some things that we don’t cover though.
Our policy wordings have a full list of exclusions but here are a few examples:
- Legal problems that start before the date cover begins;
- Civil cases where the lawyer we appoint for you does not believe that they will be more likely than not to win their case;
- Costs incurred without our expressed acceptance.
Disclaimer: This information is for general guidance regarding rights and responsibilities and is not formal legal advice as no lawyer-client relationship has been created. Note that the information was accurate at the time of publication but laws may have since changed.