According to English employment law there are only five potentially fair reasons for sacking (dismissing) an employee. They are:

  • Conduct (i.e. misconduct, bad behaviour)
  • Capability (i.e. poor performance or incapacity due to ill-health)
  • Redundancy (this has a specific meaning in the law)
  • Illegality (i.e. it would be unlawful to continue to employ the employee)
  • Some other substantial reason (sometimes known as SOSR, can include a breakdown in working relationships).

What dismissal process should an employer follow?

Even if an employer can show there is a fair reason to sack someone, they still need to follow a fair process for the dismissal to be deemed “fair” in the eyes of the law.

The process must at the very least follow the ACAS Code on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures but should also comply with the employer’s own policies and procedures. For example, if someone is sacked because of bad behaviour, they must be given the opportunity to be accompanied in the disciplinary hearing by a colleague or trade union representative and they must be given an opportunity to challenge the evidence against them.

Am I entitled to notice?

Employees are entitled to be given notice of their dismissal. The amount of notice they are entitled to should be set out in their contract of employment, but the statutory minimum period of notice is one week plus an additional week for every year of service after 24 months’ service. Sometimes instead of making you work your notice period, an employer will pay you in lieu of notice – that means pay you the equivalent to the salary you would have earned during your notice period, to bring forward the last day of your employment. The only circumstances when an employee is not entitled to notice is if they are sacked for serious misconduct, also known as gross misconduct.

Can I appeal against my dismissal?

It is important for an employee to clearly explain the reason for dismissal and the employee should always have an opportunity to appeal against the decision. The appeal should be heard if possible by someone who was not involved in the dismissal.

I think I’ve been unfairly dismissed!

If you think you’ve been unfairly dismissed it’s important to get specialist advice at an early stage. You might be able to bring an employment tribunal claim, but the time limits for doing so are very strict so don’t delay. The clock starts ticking as soon as you are told you have been dismissed, regardless of whether you appeal.

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Catherine Reynolds
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