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What is unfair dismissal?

Understanding unfair dismissal can help you determine whether you’re a victim of it and help inform your next steps.

If your employer ends your employment you may be able to claim unfair dismissal. In order for this to be the case, you must be able to show that your employer did not have a justified reason for terminating your employment and/or it did not act reasonably in the circumstances. In most cases this means showing that your employer did not follow a fair procedure.

The Employment Rights Act 1996


The Employment Rights Act 1996 lists potentially fair reasons for an employer to dismiss an employee.

Below are some examples of reasons that may be considered fair, as long as they are genuine:


  • You are not performing your role as required.

  • Your conduct is unacceptable.

  • Your role is no longer needed at the company (you are redundant).

  • You are a driver and have been banned from driving.

  • You have been off sick for a long time.

  • Your personality clashes with your boss.


However, the reason alone will not be enough to make the dismissal “fair”. It will also depend whether your employer has acted reasonably in the circumstances, including what your employer actually knew at the time. For example:


  • If your employer is unhappy that you have been off sick for a long time it should give you a reasonable time to recover, ask you how you are progressing and obtain independent medical advice about your diagnosis.

  • If you have been late for work, your employer should ask you for the reason, warn you that this is not acceptable and give you a chance to come in on time.

  • If you’re making mistakes, your employer should discuss its concerns with you and look at what you need to improve, such as better equipment or training.

  • If your employer is making redundancies, it should consult with you and adopt a fair process for selecting who will stay and who will go.


In most cases you will need two years of continued employment with your employer to be able to bring a claim for unfair dismissal.


In some cases you do not need to have been employed for two years when you make a claim. Below are a few examples of reasons that, if proved, will be automatically unfair:


  • You took time off for maternity, paternity or adoption.

  • You raised concerns about health and safety.

  • You take part in trade union activities.


If your employer is threatening to dismiss you or you have already been dismissed, it’s a good idea to get legal advice on what steps you should take and whether you have grounds for a claim. There are strict time limits for bringing employment tribunal claims, so it’s a good idea to seek professional advice as soon as you can.

To find out more about unfair dismissal and assess whether you may have been unfairly dismissed, talk to the team at Which? Legal.



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