You must have a valid reason for dismissing an employee. Valid reasons include:
- their capability or conduct
- something that prevents them from legally being able to do their job, eg a driver losing their driving licence
There could be other fair reasons too - these are sometimes called ‘other substantial reasons’.
You take on an employee to provide temporary maternity cover and dismiss them when the cover period ends.
The dismissal is fair if you made it clear at the start of their placement that the job was only temporary.
Even if you have a fair reason, the dismissal is only fair if you also act reasonably during the dismissal and disciplinary process.
There’s no legal definition of ‘reasonableness’, but if you’re taken to an employment or industrial tribunal they would consider whether you:
- genuinely believed that the reason was fair
- carried out proper investigations where appropriate
- followed the relevant procedures
- told the employee why they were being considered for dismissal and listened to their views (in Northern Ireland, the employer must do this in writing)
- allowed the employee to be accompanied at disciplinary/dismissal hearings
- gave the employee the chance to appeal
Reasonableness might also depend on whether the employee could be expected to understand the consequences of their behaviour.
Dismissal and disciplinary procedures
You must set out your dismissal and disciplinary rules and procedures in writing - if you don’t, a tribunal can order you to pay an employee compensation.
This is when you dismiss someone instantly without notice or pay in lieu of notice, usually because of gross misconduct (eg theft, fraud, violence).
Tribunals may rule a summary dismissal as ‘procedurally unfair’ - you can only suspend someone without pay if their contract says you can do this. If it doesn’t, you should suspend the employee on full pay and investigate the circumstances.
If you feel summary dismissal’s your only choice, you must still follow a fair procedure as you would do for any other disciplinary matter.