Even if you think you've dismissed someone fairly, they could still claim unfair dismissal against you if they think that:
- the reason you gave for the dismissal wasn't the real one
- the reason was unfair
- you acted unreasonably, eg by failing to give them plenty of warning about their dismissal
Automatically unfair reasons for dismissal
Even if you've acted reasonably, some reasons for dismissal are classed automatically unfair. These are to do with the following areas:
- pregnancy: including all reasons relating to maternity
- family: including parental leave, paternity leave (birth and adoption), adoption leave or time off for dependants
- acting as an employee representative
- acting as a trade union representative
- acting as an occupational pension scheme trustee
- joining or not joining a trade union
- being a part-time or fixed-term employee
- discrimination: including protection against discrimination on the grounds of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation
- pay and working hours: including the Working Time Regulations, annual leave and the National Minimum Wage
Compulsory retirement on the grounds of age is unlawful unfair dismissal unless you can objectively justify it - even then, you could be challenged at a tribunal.
It's automatically unfair to dismiss someone for taking part in official ('lawful') industrial action:
- in the 12-week period from the day the industrial action starts
- if the action lasts longer than 12 weeks and you haven't taken reasonable steps to resolve the dispute
Only an employment or industrial tribunal can decide whether or not you've taken reasonable steps to resolve a dispute.
If you 'lock out' employees taking industrial action, the days of the lock-out are not included in the calculation of the 12-week protected period.
A lock-out is where you prevent employees from getting to their workplace, eg by locking the doors.
Penalties for unfair dismissals
If a tribunal finds that an employee has been unfairly dismissed, you might be ordered to:
- reinstate them (give them their job back)
- re-engage them (re-employ them in a different job)
You might also have to pay compensation, which depends on the employee's:
- gross weekly pay
- length of service
You might have to pay extra compensation if you don't follow a tribunal's order to reinstate someone.
There's a limit on the amount a tribunal can award for unfair dismissal, apart from in cases relating to:
- health and safety (eg where you unfairly dismiss someone for taking action on health and safety grounds)
The maximum amount of compensation a tribunal can make you pay for unfair dismissal is £74,200.