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Can my Employer Fire Me?

By: Abigail Taylor - Updated: 21 Nov 2017 | comments*Discuss
 
Misconduct Gross Misconduct Dismissal

If your employer threatens to fire you, it can be a very worrying time. Often this is can be just a threat with no legal basis. However there are situations in which you can be immediately dismissed (for gross misconduct). Below we will consider the situations in which you can or cannot be dismissed.

Working Time Directive Rights

The Working Time Directive gives workers a number of rights. These include:
  • Working a maximum of 8 hours out of every 24 hours for night workers
  • Having 1 day off in every 7 days
  • Having 11 hours off in every 24 hours
  • Having a short in-work break every 6 hours
  • Having 4 weeks paid leave every year

(Note that these are an average, taken across a period of time.)

"I said to my manager that I wanted to take a break after 8 hours of working. He told me that if I do, I might as well go home and not come back. Can he do that?"

Any worker over 18 years old may opt out of the Working Time Directive. However if you do not choose to do so, you cannot legally be fired for your refusal. Equally, if have opted out and choose to opt back in, you are entitled to do so (giving notice to your employer). Your decision to opt back into the Working Time Directive is also not a reason to lawfully fire you.

Changes to working hours

"When I arrived at work last week, my boss told me that he needed me to stay 4 hours later. I said that I couldn't due to child care issues. He shouted that I was fired and walked off. I've not heard from him since. Can I be fired like that?"

If your employment contract does not give you fixed days and hours, your employer can request that you work at different times, and even change a previous rota. You however, have to be given reasonable notice of the change. If you are not given reasonable notice (which will vary on the nature of the change but is usually a minimum of 24 hours), you can refuse to change your working hours. This is not a reason to legally fire you.

Note that if you have reasonable notice of the change, and the new hours comply with your employment contract, you cannot refuse to work when asked. If you have worked for your employer for over 26 weeks and are the full time carer of a child under 17 years old or a dependent adult, you can ask for flexible working (for example to not work weekday evenings). Your employer does not have to agree to this. If they do not agree and you still refuse to work the hours or days required, this will likely be a disciplinary issue. It is unlikely that this is such gross misconduct that you will be fired immediately, but a number of disciplinary issues could lawfully lead to you losing your job.

Zero hour contracts

If your employer stops giving you any working hours (and so you do not receive any income), it may feel like they have fired you. However if you have a zero hours contract, they are not obliged to give you any hours. You have therefore not technically been fired, as you are still in their employment, but working zero hours.

If this arrangement does not work for you (for example if you need the income and so do need a certain number of hours), speak to your employer. Do they think they will realistically be able to give you the hours that you need? If not, you may wish to consider seeking employment elsewhere.

Probation period

"I was hired in a company with 3 months probation but after six weeks... they told me that I don't fit the job. Is it fair?"

Your employer can legally "let you go" without giving a reason at any time during your probation period (as long as this is not for a discriminatory reason). They do however still need to give you the required notice period (usually one week). Our article on probationary periods gives further information about this

Redundancy

If your employer suddenly has a drop in income or need for staff, and so cannot pay or does not need as many employees, they may consider redundancies. (More information on redundancies here).

"I am contracted to work 36 hours a week. My company has no clients in so work has ceased. Should by law they still have to pay me?"

There is a formal redundancy process that must be followed, including consultation with the person whose job is at risk; your employer can't legally just stop paying you or tell you not to come into work anymore.

Gross misconduct

Gross misconduct is conduct so serious that it warrants immediate dismissal.

What is gross misconduct really depends upon the job. For example two employers could require their employees to sweep up litter on an outside area of the premises and ban employees from smoking during this task. However the seriousness of the breach would be different for someone working at a hotel, where smoking might just look unprofessional, compared to at a petrol station where smoking is dangerous.

Even if you commit gross misconduct, you cannot be fired on the spot; there is a process that must be followed.

  1. Your employer can suspend you whilst they investigate the alleged incident. You will however still be paid whilst suspended
  2. There will be a meeting at which you will be given an opportunity to put forward your case. You must be given reasonable notice of the meeting to allow you to consider the points you wish to make.
  3. After this meeting, your employer must give you reasons in writing for your dismissal
  4. You have the right to appeal the decision. If you appeal, your employer must invite you to another meeting. You must again be given advance notice of this meeting and will be given the opportunity to be accompanied by a friend, union representative or colleague (depending upon your employer's procedure for disciplinary meetings)
  5. Following an appeal meeting, your employer must promptly inform you of their final decision in writing

There is therefore no lawful way to just fire someone "on the spot".

If you want to find out more about specific issues try typing your query into the search box above to find the relevant feature. You can also post any comments you have below.

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[Add a Comment]
I started my employment as an out of hours drs driver years ago and have now been told I must take a mandatory course inbeing a chaperone for the duty doctor. If I object to this I will worry about the possibility of loosing my job. I need advice.
None - 21-Nov-17 @ 5:26 PM
John - Your Question:
My employer paid for my hgv training and made me sign an agreement to stay for five years. I have left after two years as I have serious concerns about numerous health and safety issues. If I am driving the forklift people keep walking across the front forks whilst I am driving it. When I sound the horn I am told not to. But it's a legal requirement. They are now asking for the cost of the training. Will I have to pay it?

Our Response:
If you are contractually obliged to pay back the training fee then yes you should. If you feel you were forced out of the company because the safety measures implemented by your employer are insufficient, you should treat this as a separate issue and seek compensation to cover the training costs, via an employment tribunal or court. ACAS will give initial advice on this.
SafeWorkers - 17-Nov-17 @ 3:16 PM
cash - Your Question:
Hi I have just been suspended from work while my company investigate.I guy I work with took a bag of coat hangers from my work he did not hide them and they were in a clear bag so you could see them on camera as clear as day.I thought he was aloud to take them he asked me if I wanted any I said o if you don't want them all he gave me 7 I didn't know he wasn't aloud them.can I be sacked or given a final warning for having them.I have told them I will bring them straight back as I didn't know he was not aloud them

Our Response:
Just tell the truth, if you're believed, it's unlikely any action will be taken. It's usual in cases like this to ask the provenance of something you're offered for free, so next time be aware!
SafeWorkers - 17-Nov-17 @ 2:39 PM
My employer paid for my hgv training and made me sign an agreement to stay for five years. I have left after two years as i have serious concerns about numerous health and safety issues. If i am driving the forklift people keep walking across the front forks whilst i am driving it. When i sound the horn i am told not to. But it's a legal requirement. They are now asking for the cost of the training. Will i have to pay it?
John - 16-Nov-17 @ 7:43 PM
hi I have just been suspended from work while my company investigate. I guy I work with took a bag of coat hangers from my work he did not hide them and they were in a clear bag so you could see them on camera as clear as day. I thought he was aloud to take them he asked me if I wanted any I said o if you don't want them all he gave me 7 I didn't know he wasn't aloud them. can I be sacked or given a final warning for having them. I have told them I will bring them straight back as I didn't know he was not aloud them
cash - 16-Nov-17 @ 4:56 PM
My boss was drunk threw a bin at me told me I was sacked threatened me with violence and then took to social media to air his views about me.The next day I was told I was suspended and then later told to hand my notice in or face a disciplinary hearing, then sited legal covernants in my contract telling me I can’t work in the industry for 6 months. What do you advise?
Ace - 10-Nov-17 @ 11:09 PM
Sakkie- Your Question:
Hi,My Boss just give me final warning that says am abusing my sick leave and if I took A single leave without any reason then he will dismis /fire me,is that lawful.

Our Response:
You can be dismissed on the basis of numerous sick absences and certainly taking sick leave without a reason is a case for dismissal.
SafeWorkers - 10-Nov-17 @ 2:25 PM
Hi,My Boss just give me final warning that says am abusing my sick leave and if I took A single leave without any reason then he will dismis /fire me,is that lawful.
Sakkie - 8-Nov-17 @ 4:06 PM
Dave - Your Question:
My employer has made me sign a sheet of paper to say I will stay for 4 years or pay back the hgv training they paid for. is there a certain way this should have been done or anyway where they’ve done this wrong that I could possibly get out of paying it back ?Cheers

Our Response:
No this is quite common. Your employer has invested time and money into your training so they can expect some loyalty in return. If you don't want to stay, you can pay them back for the training instead.
SafeWorkers - 8-Nov-17 @ 2:54 PM
My employer has made me sign a sheet of paper to say I will stay for 4 years or pay back the hgv training they paid for.. is there a certain way this should have been done or anyway where they’ve done this wrong that I could possibly get out of paying it back ? Cheers
Dave - 7-Nov-17 @ 7:58 PM
Ajay - Your Question:
Hi my name aaron and I recently been put on forklift training course over last two days but unfortunately me and the trainer come to mutaul agreement that would fail the test as just not picking it up so do my company have the right to fire me for failing my forklift training whislt in my prohibition peroid

Our Response:
This depends on what your job entails. If your job would involve regular use of a forklift and you can't do it, then understandably, your employer will have doubts about keeping you.
SafeWorkers - 7-Nov-17 @ 9:26 AM
I've been working for a company for a year and a half now, yesterday they pulled me into the office and said my metal work wasn't up to scratch and that they were sacking me, they said I could work until the end of the month though so I guess my metal work is t that bad! Do I have any rights here?
Mrs T - 7-Nov-17 @ 7:24 AM
L1990 - Your Question:
As a manager is it gross misconduct for letting someone smoke in work premises?

Our Response:
This depends on your employer's policy - you will be able to find this in an employee handbook etc. Since an employer can be fined for allowing smoking in the workplace, it is of course, serious if a manager does not uphold this.
SafeWorkers - 6-Nov-17 @ 2:11 PM
Shorty - Your Question:
Hi,Can an Employer give us a contract after working for them for several years. As we didn't have a contract to begin with. We do have a handbook on site which states Zero hours etc. But never signed anything.

Our Response:
All employers should provide employees with a written statement of particulars including pay, hours, etc. It's better that an employer gives you a contract (albeit later) than not at all and it seems as if you were aware of most of the facts via your employee handbook. You might want to question whether your contract is indeed a zero hours one after working for your employer for several years, see our Zero hours guide here
SafeWorkers - 6-Nov-17 @ 12:03 PM
As a manager is it gross misconduct for letting someone smoke in work premises?
L1990 - 5-Nov-17 @ 10:27 AM
Hi, Can an Employer give us a contract after working for them for several years. As we didn't have a contract to begin with. We do have a handbook on site which states Zero hours etc. But never signed anything.
Shorty - 4-Nov-17 @ 12:30 PM
2509 - Your Question:
I have been working for my employer for 8 months now I have never signed a contract or even seen one, I'm not self employed he has told me I'm on the books and I have only ever had one wage slip off him too. Can he legally refuse me time off? Even when nothing has been signed or offered to me to sign?

Our Response:
You should have been given a contract and you are legally entitled to holidays and payslips. Ask for these, if your employer refuses, contact ACAS where you can find out whether you can take this to a tribunal.
SafeWorkers - 3-Nov-17 @ 3:01 PM
I have been working for my employer for 8 months now I have never signed a contract or even seen one, I'm not self employed he has told me I'm on the books and I have only ever had one wage slip off him too. Can he legally refuse me time off? Even when nothing has been signed or offered to me to sign?
2509 - 2-Nov-17 @ 11:35 PM
Butch - Your Question:
Hi guys I've been sacked from work for phoning in 5 hours 30mins before my starting time because my childcarer couldn't have my child I phoned him at 11.30am and my shift wasn't untill 5pm is this right in my probation period thank you if can help me out al so I was working there for 2/3 weeks before I was givin my clock in card but was told to keep my Rotas to show the hours worked in them weeks but haven't paid me for them and refused to pay me. I've kept all the Rotas I was given as proof can I take this to ACAS or can anyone tell me how do I get my full wage

Our Response:
You should be paid for any work youdid while working there. We can't really comment on the reason for your dismissal but in general if there is a genuine emergency (e.g. you couldn't find anyone else to look after your child at all at very short notice - usually if they just don't turn up at the beginning of a shift), you are entitled to unpaid time of to deal with it. You can ask ACAS for advice on this of course.
SafeWorkers - 1-Nov-17 @ 3:02 PM
My boss has said that if a particularproject falls behind schedule that I am part of the project team for that our Director will show me the door? Can someone be fired for the delivery of a project for which they may have no control over some of the particaulr activities? Is it gross misconduct for a manager to threaten another employee with being sacked?
Pboiler - 1-Nov-17 @ 5:52 AM
Hi my name aaron and i recently been put on forklift training course over last two days but unfortunately me and the trainer come to mutaul agreement that would fail the test as just not picking it up so do my company have the right to fire me for failing my forklift training whislt in my prohibition peroid
Ajay - 31-Oct-17 @ 6:44 PM
Hi guys I've been sacked from work for phoning in 5 hours 30mins before my starting time because my childcarer couldn't have my child I phoned him at 11.30am and my shift wasn't untill 5pm is this right in my probation period thank you if can help me out al so I was working there for 2/3 weeks before I was givin my clock in card but was told to keep my Rotas to show the hours worked in them weeks but haven't paid me for them and refused to pay me. I've kept all the Rotas I was given as proofcan I take this to ACAS or can anyone tell me how do I get my full wage
Butch - 31-Oct-17 @ 1:38 AM
G1995 - Your Question:
I’m doing a Morden apprenticeship and my boss keeps pulling me out of college to get his work done quicker and I’m losing out on education , if I go to College Can I lose my job

Our Response:
You should speak to your college's liaison officer or your course lecturer about this. The employer is likely to have signed up to certain conditions when your apprenticeship commenced.
SafeWorkers - 25-Oct-17 @ 3:43 PM
I’m doing a Morden apprenticeship and my boss keeps pulling me out of college to get his work done quicker and I’m losing out on education , if I go to College Can I lose my job
G1995 - 24-Oct-17 @ 6:37 PM
Eastlands - Your Question:
I work in Transport,have a 37.5 hour weekly contract. Invariably on 2 days a week, I finish my deliveries/collections well before my alloted time. I go home.Can I face disciplinary action and what course of action can my employer take?

Our Response:
This depends on your employer's policy, check your contract and your employee handbook. Is there other work you could be doing after you've finished your deliveries?
SafeWorkers - 16-Oct-17 @ 1:02 PM
I work in Transport,have a 37.5 hour weekly contract. Invariably on 2 days a week, I finish my deliveries/collections well before myalloted time. I go home. Can I face disciplinary action and what course of action can my employer take?
Eastlands - 14-Oct-17 @ 9:14 AM
Ryan - Your Question:
Hi there. I am about to complete my probation period and receive my contract. However. In the contract it will state that “working hours are 40 hours per week, but you will be expected to work overtime where necessary to complete the duties you are responsible for, at no extra pay” in short I will legally sign that I will work overtime for an indefinite period potentially every day, for free. I do not want to agree to this, I just want to know if I can tell them that I don’t want to agree to that rule, and if I do are they allowed to dismiss be as a result of refusing to work overtime for free? Also, if I refuse to have a restraint of trade clause would they be able to dismiss me?

Our Response:
This depends on the type of job you are doing. Many well paid managerial positions demand longer hours occasionally but the pay and other benefits will often reflect that. Your employer cannot force you to work longer than the hours stated in the working time directive (48 hours). If you were regularly asked to work unpaid overtime, you could possibly take action against your employer on the grounds of "reasonableness"; if overtime becomes necessary on a daily basis, your employer should change the way it operates (recruit an additional staff member etc). You could try negotiating with your employer to have this term modified etc?
Regarding the restraint of trade clause, we'd don't have suffiicient detail about this to advise.
SafeWorkers - 11-Oct-17 @ 12:53 PM
Hi there. I am about to complete my probation period and receive my contract. However. In the contract it will state that “working hours are 40 hours per week, but you will be expected to work overtime where necessary to complete the duties you are responsible for, at no extra pay” in short I will legally sign that I will work overtime for an indefinite period potentially every day, for free. I do not want to agree to this, I just want to know if I can tell them that I don’t want to agree to that rule, and if I do are they allowed to dismiss be as a result of refusing to work overtime for free? Also, if I refuse to have a restraint of trade clause would they be able to dismiss me?
Ryan - 10-Oct-17 @ 12:55 PM
Hi. I've been working for a start up company for a year now. My boss lives in another city so works in his home/office, while my colleague and I work in another office. My colleague is leaving at the end of the month and my boss is not going to hire someone to substitute him until he finds an investor, or at least that's what he said this time. He's always very vague about work and changes versions lots of times. He canceled the contract for the office rent as well, asking me to work from home from November. I accepted but asked for a raise to cover the bills and also for incentive as I've been working well and it's been a year. He then offered me 28k instead of the current 27k a year, a raise of 50£ net a month, which doesn't really cover the bills (I don't have gas at home, so especially in winter I get around 100£ a month just for electricity + water, etc.). I told him but he still didn't want to give me more than 28k. I also suggested I could work in a co-working space where he would spend around 200£ a month instead of the current 1000£, but he was still reluctant. We eventually agreed that I would work 4 days a week so that I could get some freelance works to top up my salary. Few days later he sends me a fixed contract of 1 year (my current one is permanent) with 40 working hours a week from Monday to Friday, plus other "mistakes(?)" about the holidays and sick pay days that weren't as written in the previous contract and other minor things. I replied telling him all the mistakes and to kindly correct them, hoping they were only mistakes. He then asked me if we could have a phone call. Now I guess he changed his mind on something or all (he always changes his mind for basically everything), but I was wondering if he has the right to fire me if I don't sign this contract? We already had a long discussion considering all sorts of options. I will talk to him soon but wanted to know what are my rights and what could happen if I refuse to sign this contract. and if he does, do I have a chance to get something from him by suing him? Does it cost a lot to sue someone? This would obviously the last and extreme option, but I wanted to know to try to understand what he has in mind, if possible. Any suggestions?
Vence - 9-Oct-17 @ 11:24 AM
I’m being pulled this way and that, my manager asks me to do one thing, my director another. I start doing one thing and am told off for doing that, I have constant phone calls from clients demanding answers which I can’t give straight away, so try and deal with that but then have to deal with a higher priority. I have asked for help but doesn’t seem to be forthcoming. Could o be sacked for poor performance?
LCBG - 5-Oct-17 @ 6:49 AM
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