What is Unfair Dismissal ? A Guide for Employers

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In this article, we'll unravel the complexities of unfair dismissal, helping you navigate through this challenging area of employment law. 

What is unfair dismissal?

Unfair dismissal is a term used in employment law to describe a situation where an employer terminates an employee's contract of employment unjustly, without a valid reason, or in a manner that breaches the regulations outlined in labor laws.

These laws are designed to safeguard employees from arbitrary or discriminatory actions by employers, such as dismissal based on race, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, pregnancy, or disability.

Unfair dismissal can also occur when an employer dismisses an employee without following the proper process, such as providing adequate notice or failing to conduct a fair investigation in case of alleged misconduct.

Importance of understanding unfair dismissal for employers

Grasping the intricacies of unfair dismissal is not just a matter of legal compliance for employers; it is a critical component of ethical business conduct and can significantly influence an organization's reputation, financial stability, employee morale, and overall trust.

Employers well-versed in what constitutes a wrongful dismissal can confidently navigate the complex law landscape.

They can make informed decisions regarding employee terminations, ensuring they uphold not only the letter of the law but the spirit of it as well. Such knowledge reduces the risk of litigation, which can be financially draining and reputation damaging.

Useful Read: Crafting a Contract Termination Letter: Guidelines and Sample Template

Who can make an unfair dismissal claim?

An unfairly dismissed employee can make an unfair dismissal claim. This usually involves situations where the dismissal was without a valid reason, was procedurally unfair, or both.

Instances when a third party can make a claim

In certain circumstances, a third party, such as a trade union representative, may make an unfair dismissal claim on behalf of the employee.

Automatically unfair reasons to dismiss an employee

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"Automatically unfair" dismissals are immediately considered unlawful due to the reason for dismissing. They can occur under circumstances including discrimination, whistleblowing, or exercising statutory employment rights.

Common examples of automatically unfair reasons

Some common examples of automatically unfair reasons include dismissal because of:

  • Pregnancy or maternity leave
  • Joining a trade union
  • Raising a health and safety issue

Consequences of automatically unfair dismissal


The legal ramifications for an employer found guilty of automatically unfair dismissal can be significant. The employer might be ordered to reinstate the employee or to pay compensation, which can be costly.

Impact on employer Reputation and trust

An employer's reputation found guilty of wrongful dismissal can be severely damaged. It may also lead to losing trust among remaining employees, impacting morale and productivity.

Unfair dismissal because of a health and safety issue

Health and safety regulations are designed to protect employees from unsafe working conditions. Dismissing an employee for raising a safety issue or for refusing to work due to genuine fears for their safety is an automatically unfair reason for dismissal.

Compliance with the contract of employment

Adherence to the contract terms by employers is essential in preventing wrongful dismissal claims. A failure to comply can lead to a situation known as constructive dismissal, where an employee is forced to resign due to the owner's conduct.

Impact of non-compliance on dismissal

Non-compliance with contractual obligations can lead to an unfair dismissal claim by the employee, which could result in the employer having to pay compensation.

Legal provisions regarding short-term employment

It's worth noting that an employee generally has to have been employed for two years before they can bring an unfair dismissal claim. However, several exceptions exist, such as in discrimination cases or where the dismissal was automatically unfair.

Risks associated with early dismissal

Early dismissal of an employee, especially an acceptable fair reason or fair procedure, carries the risk of an unfair dismissal claim. Employers should ensure they have reasonable grounds for dismissal to protect against such claims.

Fair procedure for dismissing an employee

Fair reasons for dismissal can include poor performance, misconduct, redundancy, or any other substantial reason. These reasons must be genuine, and the employer must act reasonably in treating one of these reasons as sufficient for dismissal.

A fair dismissal process

A fair dismissal process generally involves investigating the issue, informing the employee of the problem, holding a meeting to discuss the issue, providing an opportunity for appeal, and offering the right to be accompanied during these meetings, among other aspects.

Documentation and record-keeping

Keeping detailed records of the dismissal process, including the reasons for dismissal and the actions taken, can provide crucial evidence in defending against an unfair dismissal claim.

Laws and regulations surrounding dismissal

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The law surrounding dismissal is complex and involves several regulations that employers must follow. This includes following the ACAS Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures, which provides guidelines on handling dismissals and disciplinary situations in the workplace.

Must Read: What is a Workplace Grievance? A Guide for Managers

Steps to ensure lawfulness in dismissal processes

To ensure the lawfulness in dismissal processes, employers should follow a fair procedure, have a valid reason for dismissal, and act reasonably. They should also ensure they are not acting in a discriminatory way or dismissing someone for an automatically unfair reason.

Legal rights of employees for dismissal claim

Employees have the right not to be unfairly dismissed. This statutory right is provided under the law, which protects employees from unfair treatment.

Employer responsibilities in upholding these rights

Employers are responsible for upholding these rights and ensuring they act lawfully and fairly when dismissing an employee. This includes following a fair process, having a good reason for employer fires, and not acting in a discriminatory manner.

Process and timeline for making a claim

Employees who feel they have been unfairly dismissed can claim an employment tribunal. This usually needs to be done within three months of being dismissed. The process involves submitting a claim form to the tribunal, which will then be sent to the employer. The employer then has 28 days to respond.

Determining the appropriate timing for a claim

The timing for making an unfair dismissal claim is crucial. Generally, the claim must be made within three months of the firing. The tribunal may accept late applications in exceptional circumstances, but this is rare.

Importance of timing in the success of a claim

Timing can be a key factor in the success of a claim. If a claim is made outside the three-month time limit, it will likely be dismissed unless special circumstances can be demonstrated.

Possible outcomes and repercussions

If the tribunal favors the employee, the outcomes can include reinstatement, re-engagement (employing the individual in a different job), or compensation. Compensation is the most common outcome and can include basic and compensatory awards.


In conclusion, employers can protect themselves against unfair dismissal claims by understanding the law, following fair procedures, ensuring a valid reason for dismissal, and upholding the rights of their employees.

Keeping thorough records and being mindful of automatically unfair reasons for dismissal are also crucial strategies.

Just as employment law evolves, too should an employer's dismissal processes. Regularly reviewing these processes can help ensure they remain compliant with current legislation and best practices, thereby minimizing the risk of unfair dismissal claims and fostering a fair, respectful, and legally compliant working environment.

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Rinaily Bonifacio

Written by:

Rinaily Bonifacio

Rinaily is a renowned expert in the field of human resources with years of industry experience. With a passion for writing high-quality HR content, Rinaily brings a unique perspective to the challenges and opportunities of the modern workplace. As an experienced HR professional and content writer, She has contributed to leading publications in the field of HR.


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