Even if you think you’ve dismissed someone fairly, they could still claim unfair dismissal against you if they think that:
- the reason you gave for the dismissal was not the real one
- the reason was unfair
- you acted unreasonably, for example by failing to give them plenty of warning about their dismissal
Automatically unfair reasons for dismissal
Even if you’ve acted reasonably, some reasons for dismissal are classed automatically unfair. These are to do with the following areas:
- pregnancy, including all reasons relating to maternity
- family, including parental leave, paternity leave (birth and adoption), adoption leave or time off for dependants
- acting as an employee representative
- acting as a trade union representative
- acting as an occupational pension scheme trustee
- joining or not joining a trade union
- being a part-time or fixed-term employee
- pay and working hours, including the Working Time Regulations, annual leave and the National Minimum Wage
- reporting certain types of wrongdoing - this is known as whistleblowing
Compulsory retirement on the grounds of age is unlawful unfair dismissal unless you can objectively justify it - but you could be challenged at a tribunal.
It’s automatically unfair to dismiss someone for taking part in official (‘lawful’) industrial action:
- in the 12-week period from the day the industrial action starts
- if the action lasts longer than 12 weeks and you have not taken reasonable steps to resolve the dispute
Only an employment or industrial tribunal can decide whether or not you’ve taken reasonable steps to resolve a dispute.
If you ‘lock out’ employees taking industrial action, the days of the lock-out are not included in the calculation of the 12-week protected period.
A lock-out is where you prevent employees from getting to their workplace, for example by locking the doors.
If a disabled employee cannot do their job because there are no reasonable adjustments that can be made, it may be fair for you to dismiss them.
Political beliefs and groups
It is not automatically unfair to dismiss someone because of their political beliefs or political groups they belong to, but a tribunal might find this unfair.
There’s no longer a qualifying period for someone going to an employment tribunal if they’ve been dismissed because of political opinions or affiliation. This applies to anyone dismissed from 25 June 2013.
Penalties for unfair dismissals
If a tribunal finds that an employee has been unfairly dismissed, you might be ordered to:
- reinstate them (give them their job back)
- re-engage them (re-employ them in a different job)
You might also have to pay compensation, which depends on the employee’s:
- gross weekly pay
- length of service
You might have to pay extra compensation if you do not follow a tribunal’s order to reinstate someone.
There’s a limit on the amount a tribunal can award for unfair dismissal, apart from in cases relating to:
- health and safety (for example where you unfairly dismiss someone for taking action on health and safety grounds)