Unfair Dismissal Claims – What Are Unlawful Reasons to Be Fired?

Being dismissed is a stressful experience. It’s common to feel upset and angry at losing your job. You’ll need to understand the different ways staff can be dismissed, and when being sacked might be unfair dismissal.

This guide offers an easy to understand overview of what happens when you are dismissed, and your legal rights during disciplinary procedures. We’ll also explore wrongful and constructive dismissal, and what you should do if you think you’ve been unfairly dismissed.


Dismissal, often referred to as being ‘sacked,’ is when the employment contract between an employer and an employee is terminated. This generally happens when there’s a solid, legal, and justifiable reason.

However, it’s not as simple as just letting someone go. Employers must adhere to specific procedures to ensure the dismissal process is conducted fairly and legally. In the following section, we will explore what happens when these procedures aren’t properly followed, leading to what is known as ‘unfair dismissal’

What is Unfair Dismissal?

Unfair dismissal happens when an employer terminates an employee’s contract without a valid reason or without following a fair and just process.

A dismissal can be deemed unfair when the process of dismissal contravenes an employee’s rights under employment law, such as when an employer does not provide sufficient notice or doesn’t have a fair reason for the dismissal.

An employee who feels they have been unfairly dismissed can challenge the decision in an employment tribunal, and seek compensation.

Unfair Dismissal Under 2 Years

The rules for claiming unfair dismissal are slightly different for employees who have been with their employer for less than 2 years.

Employees who have less than 2 years service, do not have full protection under UK employment laws. This means they can be dismissed without the requirement to show a proper disciplinary process was followed if the employer gives a fair reason for the dismissal.

However, there are still some situations where employees with under 2 years service can claim unfair dismissal.

Automatically Unfair Dismissal

There are circumstances where dismissal may be considered automatically unfair. Protections against being dismissed for discriminatory reasons are extended to all employees from day one of employment.

An automatically unfair dismissal can be claimed when someone is fired because of:-

  • Trade union membership or activities.
  • Pregnancy, maternity or paternity leave.
  • Requesting flexible working arrangements.
  • Enforcing statutory rights, such as the right to the full national minimum wage rate or protections offered by the Working Time Regulations.
  • Whistleblowing, or exposing wrongdoing within the workplace.
  • Participating in jury service.
  • Taking or intending to take action over a health and safety issue.
  • Being forced to retire, which can be referred to as compulsory retirement.

See Also: Unfair dismissal during probation.

Wrongful Dismissal

It’s important to distinguish between ‘unfair dismissal’ and ‘wrongful dismissal’, as they represent different legal concepts. While ‘unfair dismissal’ refers to a breach of statutory rights, ‘wrongful dismissal’ centres around a breach of employment contract.

Typical examples of wrongful dismissal can occur when an employer terminates an employee without giving the notice period stipulated in the contract. You don’t need two years of continuous employment with the same employer to claim wrongful dismissal. This right to fair treatment starts from the very first day of your job.

Fair Reasons for Dismissal

Dismissal is considered fair and lawful if it meets one of the five fair reasons for dismissal outlined in the Employment Rights Act of 1996. Employers must adhere strictly to these guidelines when dismissing an employee.

The following are the specified reasons for fair dismissal:

  1. Conduct, including misconduct and gross misconduct. This means the employee has done something not acceptable in the workplace. This could be stealing, bullying or sexual harassment.
  2. Capability. Sometimes an employee may be physically unable to do their job safely. It might be due to an ongoing illness or disability. Employers must proceed with caution when dismissing on capability grounds.
  3. Redundancy. It might be that the company is experiencing some financial problems and laying off staff will ease these. Or it might be that the job role the employee had is no longer viable or needed.
  4. A valid legal reason. An employer can dismiss a staff member who can no longer perform the job legally. For example, a delivery driver might be sacked by the delivery company if their driving licence has been revoked.
  5. Some other substantial reason. Dismissal can be fairly applied where there is another substantial reason. This might include repeated warnings for a certain behaviour or the completion of a fixed term contract.

Source: Employment Rights Act 1996, Section 98.

Constructive Dismissal

Constructive dismissal is an often complex situation where an employee resigns because their employer has significantly breached their employment contract terms.

In these situations, the employee often feels forced to leave their job due to actions or negligence from the employer’s side, thereby constructing the circumstances for their own dismissal.

Several circumstances can lead to constructive dismissal claims being made, and they may include:

Making an Unfair Dismissal Claim

Making an unfair dismissal claim against your employer can seem daunting. However, the steps below give a basic overview of the process you’d follow when submitting a claim.

Know Your Legal Rights

Before proceeding with an unfair dismissal claim, you need to be fully aware of your legal rights. This includes knowing what constitutes unfair dismissal.

An important first step is checking that you meet the criteria to make a claim after losing your job. If you aren’t sure, make sure you get legal advice from a trusted source as quickly as possible.

Seek Legal Advice

It is important to arm yourself with as much legal information as you can at this point. Your local citizen’s advice bureau will be able to help you with this, free of charge.

You can opt for some specialist advice if you have the means to do so, and many employment lawyers offer a free intial consult.

Begin to Collate Your Evidence

Compiling proper evidence is paramount to your unfair dismissal case. You need to put together any information that proves your claim.

This might be wage slips, emails, any statements from witnesses and any other relevant information. Evidence will strengthen your case and help prove unfair dismissal.

Seek Early Intervention Support

Before launching a tribunal case, you should first enter early conciliation. In most cases, you cannot start the tribunal process until you have tried this first.

This involves contacting ACAS who will attempt to resolve the issue without the need for a tribunal hearing. This isn’t always successful but in some cases, employers will make an offer to settle the dispute.

Be Aware Of Time Constraints

You must stick to the time frames for making claims for unfair dismissal. You need to start the process within 3 months (less one day) from the day you were dismissed.

 Fill In A ET1 Claim Form

You can fill in a form, known as the ET1 Form, from the government website. This is the case if early conciliation is unsuccessful or not an option. This form allows you to detail the reasons for the claim, why you feel it is unfair dismissal and other relevant information.

This will then be submitted to the employment tribunal for them to determine the next steps.

Employers Fill In A ET3 Response

The employment tribunal will then be in touch with the employer to get a response from them. This is usually given a time limit of 28 days but employers can request an extension.

They are given a copy of the employee’s ET1 form so they can defend it if they wish to.

Tribunal Hearing

If the matter has not been resolved then it will proceed to an official tribunal hearing. Both the employee and employer will have their chance to talk and evidence the matter from their perspective.

The tribunal will then consider the evidence presented, plus the facts and make their decision.

Agreeing To a Settlement

Before or even during the hearing, the employer and employee may come to a settlement arrangement. This involves a formal agreement in writing, which all parties must agree to.

It will be legally binding to all those concerned.

The Right To Appeal

If you disagree with the decision of the tribunal, you have the right to appeal. This involves taking the case to the High Court on the point of law.

This usually must be done within 21 days of the tribunal decision. However, the tribunal might have its own stipulations and offer another time frame.

Unfair Dismissal Compensation

Once an employment tribunal rules they consider a dismissal to be unfair, they will calculate how much compensation to award.

The amount will then be communicated to the former employer who must honour this payment. One of the main reasons for an unfair dismissal case results from employers failing to follow the ACAS code of practice.

Basic Award

As of April 2022, the maximum award for basic compensation is £17,130. The overall amount awarded, however, may rise beyond this as it doesn’t include things such as loss of earnings.

The amount offered is solely for compensation for the unfair dismissal which means employers may have to pay out over and above this amount. There are two determining factors when calculating the compensation – length of service and the age of the employee.

There is a cap of 20 years as the service time and the age is used to calculate a fair rate of compensation. All of these factors help to arrive at a fair and reasonable formula by which to award compensation.

Compensatory Award

A compensatory award takes into consideration the actual financial losses during the unfair dismissal. This covers loss of earnings and any future loss of earnings too.

There might be grounds for pursuing compensation for future losses if this dismissal has adversely affected future employment.

The compensatory award will also consider bonus schemes you have missed out on or any pension entitlements. However, the employee needs to be able to evidence any attempts at gaining future employment. Failing to do this may result in a reduced amount of compensation.

Additional Awards

In some, but not all, unfair dismissal cases, there might be an argument for additional awards to be granted. This will depend on each case, based on its circumstances. The tribunal may decide that interest will be charged on top of the compensation.

Another example of an additional award is a protective award. This is usually awarded when correct redundancy procedures were not followed, resulting in unfair dismissal.

There can also be grounds for an award for aggravated damages. This is fairly rare though and only awarded if the employer’s behaviour is deemed cruel.

16 thoughts on “Unfair Dismissal Claims – What Are Unlawful Reasons to Be Fired?

  1. Anna says:

    Hi I have been offered a job at a school about 2 months ago and I am on probation period of 3 months. I am coming to the end off the probation period. During this time I have been off a few times due to my child being unwell or I my self have been sent home by the head teacher because I have been unwell one time too. However The head teacher shows no signs of sympathy and pulled me up on a meeting explaining how my attendance is unacceptable, I took in the information he was telling I also tried to explain sickness is unavoidable But will try my best to improve as much as I can. I called in today sick as I had the stomach bug, his reaction was very annoyed asked me to see me on Monday for another meeting as this is happening one to many times. I wanted to know if someone is on probation but they fall ill and can provide medical proof do the employer still dismiss someone based on attendance issues. Also can I dispute it if I feel I have been treated unfairly because every time I have been ill it was really upsetting how there was no sign off sympathy in his approach and no professionalism in the manner in which he addressed me.

  2. Mark says:

    Hello, I had been working with my employer for 8 months when I was instantly dismissed on the grounds that my employer claimed I had committed two acts of gross misconduct. I was told this by one manager in person, with no one else present. I was given a dismissal letter and told not to come back to work. The letter stated that I had a right to appeal and that it would expire 5 working days from then. The letter stated that if I wanted to appeal, I would have to send a letter of appeal to another manager (more senior) in the company within those 5 working days. What I want to know is whether the employer broke the law by: 1) By only giving me less than 12 minutes to prepare my defence against the employment-termination decision & the charge of gross misconduct, initially made when, in person, I was being dismissed. 2) Not giving me any chance to arrange for a representative (such as a trade-union rep.) to be present at the time when, in person, I was being dismissed. Can you also tell me whether I have a legal right to an appeal hearing & whether I also have a legal right to have a representative present at such a hearing? The following excerpt from this web-page, seems to suggest that the employer broke the law in my case: “They…” (the employer) “…need to have investigated the situation leading up to your dismissal thoroughly and followed at least the steps in the statutory minimum dismissal procedure. If they haven’t taken these steps, then your dismissal is unfair. …” Thanks, Mark

  3. deb says:

    I left my previous job which I loved as late nights and travelling was getting too much I started a new job in a jewellers it was temporary till next may I noticed things were not tight with my manager another new starter had snide comments made too her about her job performance she was getting anxiety ftom this and too speak too the other manager regarding this the manager came down and asked me questions in which I did not want too get involved but I thought I should mention how the new starter and myself was get ing treated and training not being done they investigated it and the other manager said our names would not be mentioned the manager went off sick family problems we had no staff I was handed the keys and ran store on some days I had only worked there 3 months the new starter left as she couldn’t work with the manager I went on holiday then came back the atmosphere was awful she kept making me feel stupid this went on then last week she called me in office for probation review and said things were not working out and I kept putting the charms the wring way round on display a poor excuse I really think I was let go for whistle blowing what shoukd I do .

  4. Help says:

    I’ve started my job, am on my 5th month of probation and I am being bullied by my team leader. Everyone in the office has noted that he has micromanaged me time and time again and pulls me into hour to 2 hour long meetings where essentially threatens that he has the power to terminate or keep me on. Constantly has threatened me since month one to put me on a PIP despite other workers having done far worse and receiving the contract. He has however assisted with some aspects of my dyslexia (however has constantly said that I’ve got memory loss after reading a segment in my report about memory recall difficulties) however has not been understanding regarding other aspects of my health going downhill.

  5. Bobbie G says:

    (CONTINUES FROM COMMENT BELOW)…..After O wrote to tell A the matter would be closed unless he heard from her, A sent the same letter by email. This letter defended F and outlined M’s unprofessional behaviour and the circumstances of the assault. In the meantime, F reported much of the above to O in writing. F was invited to, and attended a meeting at head office with senior management, where she got the impression that they were not interested in the allegations of assault or discrimination, but were manipulating the situation to focus on her performance. A later attended a similar meeting and was threatened with legal action for “slander” if she took her complaint further. F was then informed of a deferred performance appraisal (of which she had never been informed) for her, scheduled for two days after F was told that she would receive the results of the company’s investigation. This is next week. In the meantime, this week staff have received cash bonuses in envelopes and notifications of an hourly pay rise from next week. Historically part-time staff receive an average of 50% less bonus than full-time managers. F received the same bonus as her staff, and unlike other managers, she has not received notification of a pay rise. F is certain that she will soon be dismissed for alleged poor performance, in spite of clear evidence to the contrary. She has been employed for just under 6 months.

  6. Bobbie G says:

    This is a long one: F has an 11-year old eye condition which requires her to wear dark glasses. The company’s area manager (M) told her at interview that she thought this would be a problem when dealing with customers. F told M that this had not been a problem before (she had plenty of previous face to face customer experience) but agreed that she would try some less dark glasses. She was employed, but the lighting was too bright for her and she had to revert to her original glasses (NB: under the lights, although F’s glasses are dark, her eyes are still visible). M continued to mention F’s eye condition almost every time she came into her branch. At interview M told F that sales were “down on last year”, for various reasons, including a new branch of the store in a nearby town. As time went on F found it difficult dealing with M who proved to have been principal in forcing another area manager, the two previous branch managers and a number of assistants out of the company because of her bullying and critical management style. “my job is to tell you what’s wrong and what’s not wrong” is a direct quote which illustrates her approach. In spite of this F enjoyed her job and regularly beat weekly targets set by M by up to almost 50%. Two other local branches have been unable to reach their targets on a regular basis. Recently, on a particularly bad day, M came into the branch and complained and shouted at everybody (she does this in other branches), even in earshot of customers. She got particularly frustrated with one of F’s assistants (A) and assaulted her with a strong slap on the arm. M then wanted “a word” with F and took her into a store room where she subjected her to a 50-minute criticism of F, all her staff, and the company senior management. Because of what had gone on that day and that there were no witnesses, F had the good sense to reach into her handbag and turn on her mobile voice recorder. Amongst the things M said were: 1) F wearing lighter glasses was a condition of her employment and that she cannot have someone in a face to face customer position where they can’t see their eyes (factually incorrect, as stated above); 2) another, foreign, member of staff should not be given more hours because J can’t understand her (she has worked there successfully for several years and only since M joined has she had her hours reduced), and even said that when this lady answers the phone “it sounds like a porn shop”; 3) she was extending F’s probation period by one month because of her performance. F asked M if this was a verbal warning. M said “no”, but she would confirm some points in an email, which M later sent to F and copied into senior management. A resigned following the assault on her and after the company owner (O) came to the branch and asked A if she wanted to make a formal complaint. A submitted a grievance in writing, which was ‘lost’ in the company’s internal post. After O wrote to tell A the matter would be closed un

  7. Emma says:

    So I was employed for three wer eks at a retail store, and was sacked due to me enquiring whether or not I could transfer to another store, I was based in a location a bit of a distance from my home, I went to the same store which was based closer, and enquired about it, they then contacted my store to say I had been in, and then I went to work today to discover I had been sacked is this a case of unfair dismissal?

  8. lenam says:

    I came to UK as a live in nanny and worked for a week and on my first day off a host family just threw me out of the house without any notice . They didn’t make an insurance and a contract as told that it will take up to a month before all the papers will be ready. And they didn’t pay me a week wages. What is possible to do in that case? Thanks.

    • Safe Workers says:

      @lenam – They should have paid you for the week you worked and given you any agreed notice before dismissing you. Talk to your nanny agency if you got your job through one. If necessary you might have to try and get your money back via the small claims court.

  9. angiecc says:

    the new manager is 2 months into a 6 month probationary period, but has made a lot of serious mistakes & has shown a severe inability to do the job he was employed for. the contract had been written hurriedly & mentions that both parties will give 3 months notice. can I still dismiss him without notice due to these serious mistakes & his inability to do the job that he was employed for?

    • Safe Workers says:

      @angiecc – Dismissal without a notice period can usually only be used in the case of gross misconduct, which is this case is not relevant. Your options here are to either (1) dismiss the employee and offer payment in lieu of notice (this should really be given as an option in the contract unless you have the agreement of the employee), (2) allow a period of ‘gardening leave’ so the employee does not come in to work while serving his notice (but is still paid) or (3) To simply let him work out his notice.

  10. sy says:

    Hi im just wondering if I can claim unfair dismissal ive been with my employer since December 2014. my employer laid me of for three weeks in January then took me back on with different job role and restarted my probation period during my probation period they have sacked me because I have been of work with a back problem wich they have sick notes for is there anything I can claim I.e unfair dismissal thankyou

  11. Anne-Marie Robinson says:

    Hi I have been with my current employer for a year and 11 months. I have recently taken a promotion to a new role within the same company. Apparently I am in a 3 months probationary period which I have note signed a new contract for. My old role as a account manager crossed over into my new role Development Manager for 2 months. No targets were set out to achieve in my first three months. I have had my probationary period extended by a month before my 3 months probation has ended. Can you tell me; can I be let go within this period? If so could it be instant dismissal? What rights do I have if they do especially as I have no clear guidelines on what I should have achieved and no signed new contract for this job or no confirmation of probationary period. Thanks in advance

    • Safe Workers says:

      @Anne-Marie Robinson – As a permanent employee for almost two years, you have gained the right to claim unfair dismissal if that is what happens. Talk to your employer NOW about your objectives etc. That way you still have a month to meet them.

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