Losing a job in any circumstances is tough enough, but if this was the result your employer firing you, it can have far-reaching consequences.
Having your employment history marred by a record of being fired can make it more difficult to find a new job, as potential new employers are less likely to offer you a job once they find out you were dismissed from your previous one. This may even lead to an offer of new employment being revoked, as many offers are subject to satisfactory references.
In such a situation, you may resort to applying for jobs that are below your qualification or experience level, or ones that pay a lot less than your previous role. You may even decide to settle for temporary or zero-hour jobs instead, as they are quicker to find and do not usually ask the reason for leaving the old job.
Either way, this is not always a palatable route and one that can result in a significant loss of income. However, what if all of this is avoidable?
How You Are Protected From Unfair Dismissal
The UK Employment Rights Act 1996 provides provisions for an employer to dismiss an employee. However, it also shields the employee from unfair dismissal. In this post, we begin to explore this employee protection and the legal stance on unfair dismissal, and discuss what options are available for the aggrieved party.
So, before you start walking down the uncertain and often harsh road of sudden unemployment, read through our guide to find out if you are a victim of unfair dismissal. If so, you can also learn what actions to take.
What Is Unfair Dismissal?
UK law is clear when it comes to the rules and regulations surrounding the dismissal of an employee.
First off, an employer must have a legally acceptable reason (discussed below) for terminating an employee. If the grounds for dismissal provided are not good enough, or not provided, then this qualifies as unfair dismissal.
Secondly, the dismissal must follow set provisions laid down in law. Therefore, even if your employer fired you for a legitimate reason, you can still file an unfair dismissal claim if the handling of the dismissal was not appropriate.
What Are Legitimate Reasons For Dismissal From Employment?
All unfair dismissal claims in the UK fall within the jurisdiction of the Employment Tribunal (ET) – an independent body specifically created to deal with employment-related issues.
Upon starting civil proceedings, the very first thing the tribunal will look at is whether the employee making the claim lost their job under ‘fair’ or ‘unfair’ circumstances. For this, the tribunal will initially refer to section 98(2) of the Employment Rights Act 1996, which states there are five ‘fair’ grounds for dismissal. They cover:
This looks at the competence of an employee. Employers are well within their rights to terminate employment if an employee lied about their qualifications during an interview, lacks the skills for the job, failed to adapt to changes within the company (e.g. use of new computer system) even after training, or has committed one huge or several incompetent mistakes.
Dismissal on grounds of inadequate capability also applies if the employee has a health condition that makes it difficult/impossible to carry out duties or has resulted in many missed workdays.
Any form of misconduct within work premises is another reasonable cause for dismissal. A few examples that fall within the realm of misconduct include stealing from work, corporate espionage, taking unauthorized holidays, being abusive to colleagues, arriving or getting drunk at work, being regularly late or absent from work, and even speaking out of turn to the employer.
Refers to a situation where an employer needs to reduce the workforce. However, the employer should use a fair redundancy policy to decide which employee to let go of and who to keep.
4) Breaking Of The Law:
If an employee commits a crime (civil or criminal) that makes it legally impossible for the employer to keep them on, dismissal from work might be considered fair.
Take the example of a truck driver who gets arrested for multiple traffic violations outside of work and who later faces charges, leading to their driving license being revoked. The employer will have no choice but to dismiss the said driver if there is no other alternative job available.
Provisions in the employment act also apply if, when retaining an employee, the employer will be effectively breaking the law. For example, an employer will have no choice but to dismiss a foreign national whose work permit has expired.
5) ‘Any Other Reason’:
Covers any legally acceptable reason that does not fall within the other four categories mentioned above. It could be anything from an employee refusing to work within specific parameters, to an exceptional situation such as critical client asking for the dismissal of a particular worker.
On What Grounds Can I Claim Unfair Dismissal Compensation?
If dismissed from your employment, you can take legal action against your former employer if your personal situation falls under the following scenarios.
1) Termination Without Reasonable Cause
If the reason for your termination does not fall within the range of legally justifiable reasons (as listed above), your dismissal could be an ‘unfair’ one, allowing you to make a claim.
2) Retaliatory Sacking
Dismissal of this form serves as an extension of the first point. If you lost your job immediately after joining a union, requesting for pay rise as per statutory minimum wage, informing the relevant authority of wrongdoing in the workplace (whistleblowing), going on legal strike action, or requesting for maternity/paternity leave, you might have a strong case for unfair dismissal.
Check with a qualified employment lawyer if you feel this may be the case, as there are plenty of other situations that would qualify as retaliatory dismissal.
3) Lack Of Due Process Regarding Dismissal
If the reason for termination is legally justifiable, the Employment Tribunal will then move on to check if there was a fairness of procedure leading up to the firing.
The Employment Rights Act stipulates that there should be written and verbal warnings to an employee plus attempts to resolve an issue before dismissal. Many companies have specific disciplinary and dismissal policies & procedures, which if not followed, can result in the employment tribunal deeming the removal from employment as ‘unfair’.
It is also a requirement to issue a notice in advance, except in exceptional situations such as a violent outburst from an employee or when a worker is caught stealing, etc. If your case is a unique one, your employer must prove that they acted reasonably given the circumstances.
4) Constructive Dismissal
‘Constructive dismissal’ is a term used to describe a situation where an employer frustrates an employee to the point where they feel there is no option but to resign.
For instance, the employer could slash pay with no explanation, transfer you to work in a far-off location without consultation, change your working hours from day to night shifts, and so on.
The problem with constructive dismissal cases is that they can be hard to win, as you must prove that you only resigned because your employer created a hostile working environment.
Therefore, if this is your situation, you should get in touch with an employment lawyer immediately to get legal advice. In any of the above applies to you, please feel free to click on here, where you can access an experienced claims adviser for a free no-obligation discussion.
Is There A Time Limit Claiming Unfair Dismissal Compensation?
Yes, you have just under three months to file your claim, so don’t delay if you believe this has happened to you. Legally speaking, the official time limit is 3 months less one day from the termination of your employment.
What Steps Can You Take If There Has Been Unfair Dismissal?
When making an unfair dismissal claim, you will need to take the following three steps:
Step 1) Determine If You Qualify To File An Unfair Dismissal Lawsuit
As per the Employment Rights Act, you only qualify to make an unfair dismissal claim if you:
- Are classified as an employee (workers such as contractors & freelancers do not fall in this category)
- Have continuously worked for your employer for at least two years.
- However, it should be noted that the 24-month continuous employment rule does not apply in certain situations. For example, this timeline won’t apply if you are the victim of retaliatory sacking or to anyone fired without a justifiable reason while on leave (maternity, sick, or any other kind).
- You should also seek legal advice if you feel the dismissal was due to discrimination.
Another factor that can influence your unfair dismissal claim is the specific terms & conditions of your employment contract. If there is a clause in there that gives your employer unchecked dismissal power, you might not be able to take legal action against your boss.
Step 2) Gather Proof Of Your Dismissal
In an unfair dismissal claim, you must provide proof of your sacking. It will be impossible to challenge a dismissal if you cannot even show that you were fired in the first place.
So, gather up all official documentation (disciplinary letters, emails or text messages giving warnings against your conduct, termination letter, etc.) concerning the dismissal.
If you have none of that, you need to contact your former employer and ask for a written explanation as to why you were fired. By law, your employer has up to 14 days to respond. Make sure to remind your boss of this to ensure you get a response.
If your employer refuses to comply, proceed to the next step. By ignoring your request, the employer’s refusal could work to strengthen your case, as that will qualify as proof of lack of due process.
Step 3) Get Legal Help
When unfairly dismissed, it is preferable to try to reach an understanding with your employer first. You may do this by bringing in a third party in the form of a lawyer or leader of your union (if you are in one) to act as a mediator between you and your former boss. It may also be useful to contact ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) for further advice.
If reconciliatory talks fail to resolve the issue, you can then take your case to an employment tribunal (ET). Make sure to move fast however, as you only have around 90 days from the date of termination to bring your unfair dismissal claim before the ET. Remember, the official time limit is 3 months less one day from the termination date of your employment.
What Are You Entitled To Get In A Successful Unfair Dismissal Claim?
Although all unfair dismissal cases are different, there are only two possible judgment outcomes. So, should you successfully prove unfair dismissal before a tribunal, you stand to get one or both of the following:
The compensation does not come as one lump sum but instead given in two parts, which include:
This is an amount obligated by law. It is calculated by looking at a person’s age and the number of years of service given to their employer.
Individuals aged 41 and above will be paid 1.5 week’s pay for every year of service. Workers aged between 22 and 40, in turn, are given one week’s pay X number of years in employment, whilst those under 22 years old will get half a week’s pay for each year of service rendered.
However, this law is subject to a maximum of 20 years’ service. So, even if you have worked for your employer longer than that, the applicable number of week’s pay will only be calculated against 20 years’ service.
The basic award can be slashed at the tribunal’s discretion, however, if you were already paid the statutory compensation for redundancy or if you were offered your job back but refused to go back. Similarly, the tribunal can lower the amount if it determines that your actions warranted termination of employment and only ruled in your favour because the dismissal was not lawfully done.
Additional Compensatory Reward
Is a fixed sum intended to compensate you for earnings lost (including any allowances or bonuses usually offered) and any other monetary losses arising directly from the dismissal. There is no specific guideline or monetary limit set for the additional compensatory reward element. The employment tribunal decides what it will be, based on the individual circumstances of the case.
The ET can also order that your employer re-hire you. Re-employment may take one of two forms. If it is a ‘reinstatement’ order, you are entitled to get your old job back. With ‘re-engagement’ orders, your employer should give you a position similar to your old one. However, if the employer does not wish to re-hire, due to bad relations between the two of you, they can offer a compensation award instead.
In some cases, the re-employment order can come with a directive for your employer to cover all lost earnings applicable from the date of termination to the day of re-hiring. This may also be separate from or calculated within the monetary compensation mentioned above.
Unfair Dismissal Compensation: Conclusion
Not everyone can qualify to make an unfair dismissal claim. Remember, however, you may have a strong case if:
- Your employer fired you for reasons that UK law deems as unjust.
- The appointing authority did not follow legally acceptable procedures.
You can bring the claim to an Employment Tribunal yourself, have your union leader do it for you or hire a solicitor with expertise in unfair dismissal cases. We believe that the latter option is arguably the best approach since there is quite a bit of complexity to unfair dismissal cases.
Solicitors have the legal expertise to make a convincing case on your behalf, as well as handle the complex nature of these cases. Another point to note is that there are fees you must pay if bringing forward an unfair dismissal claim yourself. They include an issue fee and hearing fee, paid to the tribunal, which cost around £1200.
If you cannot raise this amount, a ‘No win – No fee’ solicitor arrangement is worth pursuing. That way, if you win your case, the legal fees can then be deducted from the settlement figure.