Editor's message: The right not to be unfairly dismissed is probably the most important statutory right that employees have.
To prevent your organisation falling foul of the legislation, you need to remember that there are only five fair reasons for dismissal - conduct, capability, redundancy, contravention of a statutory duty/restriction, and some other substantial reason. Before dismissing an employee, you therefore need to make sure that you have a potentially fair reason. However, you also need to be able to show that you acted reasonably in treating the reason as sufficient for dismissal, and that you followed a fair process. In a redundancy situation, the latter would include ensuring proper consultation and selection procedures, while a misconduct or performance dismissal would require sufficient warning (in most cases), proper investigation and evidence, and the right to be accompanied at hearings.
Be aware too that there are some reasons for dismissal that are automatically unfair, including where a dismissal is connected to rights around working time, family-friendly leave or the minimum wage. And, while an employee must normally have at least two years' service to bring an unfair dismissal claim, in the majority of areas of automatically unfair dismissal, this minimum service requirement does not apply.
Stephen Simpson, principal employment law editor
HR and legal information and guidance relating to unfair dismissal.