What you need to know about dismissal

It should be a last resort

First published on Thursday, Jun 04, 2020

Last updated on Friday, Jun 07, 2024

A dismissal is when you end an employer's contract, with or without notice.

Dismissal from work also occurs when an employee's fixed-term contract expires and you choose not to renew it.

When should I dismiss someone?

Dismissal should be your last resort—you hired this employee at one time based on their skills, experience, or both. So getting rid of them shouldn't be something you want to do.

There must now be a clear reason for pushing them out the door.

There are five broad reasons for a fair dismissal:

  1. Poor conduct, such as lateness.
  2. Lacking capability or the qualifications for the job.
  3. Redundancy, for example when downsizing a team.
  4. A statutory duty or a restriction that forbids their employment from continuing. For example, if a courier has a driving ban.
  5. Some other substantial reason that explains the dismissal.

Even with the above list, dismissal a member of staff is not as easy as copying Lord Sugar and telling someone, "You're fired!"

You need to do a bit more than that to prove that you've acted in a fair and consistent manner before giving someone 'the boot'. Otherwise, you risk dismissing your employees unfairly.

Your dismissal procedure

To avoid a claim for unfair dismissal against you, you should take the following steps, in order:

  1. Informal chat and improvement note.
  2. Verbal warning.
  3. First written warning.
  4. Second written warning.*
  5. Final written warning.
  6. Dismissal, demotion, or transfer to another part of the business.

In cases of gross misconduct, start the disciplinary proceedings at stage 6. This would be for serious charges like theft, violence, fraud, sexual harassment, etc.

If you go through a fair process then you might, in cases like these, skip a final written warning and give a summary dismissal.

Your dismissal procedures and policies should be open to your staff in their employee handbook, as well as in the statement of terms and conditions of employment.

Give each new starter copies of these when they join.

Whenever you make changes to these documents, tell all staff in writing.

The trick here is to cover your bases. Make sure everyone in your business has access to your policies and procedures for discipline and grievance.

Do this and it's fair to expect your staff to read and learn what you want from them and for them to behave in the right way.

Dismissal during probationary period

Read our BrightBase guide on probation period dismissal to make sure that you treat your new hires in a fair and consistent manner.

Types of dismissal that you should avoid

There are unlawful types of dismissal. If you're found guilty of any of these, you'll face a heavy blow to your reputation and a large financial loss:

Dismissal without notice

When you dismiss an employee, you'll normally have to give them their notice period.

A summary dismissal, or instant dismissal, which you've given out because of gross misconduct, does not require a notice period nor pay in lieu of notice (PILON).

Contractual notice periods range from less than one week for a new hire who has been with you for less than a month, to as much as three months for valuable, long-term staff, who you'll need time to replace.

If you haven't given employees notice periods in their contract, or this notice period is too low, they're entitled to statutory notice.

When the contractual notice is lower than the statutory notice due, the statutory notice overrides it because this is the minimum that the law requires.

Staff with a tenure between one month and two years are entitled to one week, whereas after their second year you must give at least one more week's notice for each year they work, up to a maximum of twelve weeks.

If you dismiss someone without giving full notice, you could be guilty of wrongful dismissal.

When a staff member leaves (with or without notice) due to their employer's conduct, this is known as constructive dismissal. 

*A lot of businesses follow a first warning with a final warning, bypassing the second written warning.

Alan Price

CEO, BrightHR and Group Chief Operating Officer

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