Unfair dismissal

Ashok Kanani

Editor's message: If you reach a decision to dismiss an employee, you should bear in mind that employees have the right not to be "unfairly dismissed" under the Employment Rights Act 1996.

Unfair dismissal is a legal concept. If the employee that you dismissed complains to an employment tribunal that he or she was unfairly dismissed, to justify your decision to dismiss as being fair you will have to show that the reason for the dismissal is one of the potentially fair reasons set out in the Employment Rights Act (capability, conduct, redundancy, breach of a statutory enactment, or some other substantial reason). If you can establish this, the employment tribunal will go on to consider if you acted reasonably in dismissing the employee, taking into account all the circumstances. You will need to show that you investigated the matter, followed a fair procedure and ultimately made a reasonable decision to dismiss.

If a dismissal is found to be unfair, employment tribunals generally order the employer to pay financial compensation to the employee. Where a tribunal finds that you haven't followed the Acas code of practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures in a relevant case, it can increase the compensation it orders you to pay by up to 25%. Very occasionally, employment tribunals exercise their powers to order employers to re-engage or reinstate the employee.

Madeleine Graham, managing editor, employment law

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