Unfair dismissal

Useful improvements to the law on unfair dismissal in 1999 included shortening the time you need to have been employed before you can bring a claim from two years to one, and raising the maximum amount of compensation the employment tribunal can award from £12k to £52,700k.

Unfair dismissal is judged as where either you weren’t dismissed for a fair reason, or you weren’t dismissed ‘correctly’, or both. You could be sacked for a perfectly acceptable reason, but if the employer doesn’t follow the right procedures, you could still win compensation. It’s easier to say what the tribunals consider fair than what is likely to be found unfair:

– incapability – in terms of qualifications, competence and health

– serious or repeated misconduct – theft, being drunk on the job, leaking confidential information, being regularly late or absent, etc

– redundancy – provided the method for selection was fair.

The tribunal will also look at whether the employer had a proper disciplinary procedure – and followed it. Written warnings aren’t obligatory in every situation: in cases of serious misconduct, for instance, immediate dismissal can be perfectly fair. But the tribunal will look at whether bosses, for example, investigated allegations thoroughly and gave you the chance to have your say.

Although it is rare to obtain a maximum award at court, high earners may have a significant loss of earnings claim and so high awards are achievable. In a depressed job market, even lower paid earners can amass a significant loss of earnings if it takes many months to secure alternative employment.

To bring a claim to court, you must:

– have a proper contract of employment. If you are a casual or temporary worker, you won’t have any protection

– have been employed by your organisation for one year without any breaks

– be under 65

– work in the UK.

You have only three months from the date you were dismissed.

If you weren’t sacked, but felt you had to resign because of the way you were being treated, you may still be able to claim. You could be treated as ‘constructively dismissed’ if the employer acted ‘unreasonably’, for example, by victimising you, not supporting you in a difficult situation, changing your job without consulting you, falsely accusing you of misconduct or harassing or humiliating you. But to have this taken seriously, you would have to have resigned soon after the incidents in question.

You may also wish to consult your union representative, if applicable. They may bring in an officer at national level to help you in the case of unfair dismissal. Trade unions have experts dealing with this sort of issue and can provide expert information, such as the likelihood of success should you wish to take your case to an employment tribunal. Sometimes solicitors are involved, but in more straightforward cases a union officer will be able to present your case.

If you believe you have been dismissed unfairly seek advice from Citizens Advice Bureau or a solicitor (for a contact in your area visit the employment solicitors web site on www.employment-solicitors.co.uk.