Losing a job is an experience no one wants to go through. Aside from the financial concerns and the dreaded search for alternative employment, it can also be demoralising. Especially if you have been fired or let go.
Aside from redundancy, which occurs when financial difficulties or closure has led a company to let staff go, there are very few reasons an employer can legally dismiss you unless you are at fault.
In the case that you are at fault, this can make finding new employment challenging as you will usually need to declare having been fired during the process of applying for new roles. Hiring an employee who has been fired by their previous employer can be offputting for potential employers as it can give the impression that you are unreliable or unprofessional.
Therefore, if there are any signs you have a claim for unfair dismissal, it’s worth reviewing and potentially even challenging the decision.
Have You Been Unfairly Dismissed?
The proper term for being sacked or fired is ‘dismissed’. Therefore, if you have been dismissed then the assumption must be that you are somehow unable to do your job. To have been dismissed your employer must have terminated your employment contract but you must not have resigned. Unfair dismissal is the termination of an employment contract without just and legal cause. Whether or not a dismissal is unlawful is usually decided in an Employment Tribunal. However, it’s a good idea to be sure you have a case for unfair dismissal first, so here are some of the legitimate reasons an employee can be dismissed:
- Misconduct: Unprofessional or immoral behaviour some of which may result in summary dismissal, meaning no notice needs to be given
- Failure to do the job: Capability and qualifications but also the ability to get on with colleagues or keep up with system changes and/or role responsibilities
- Long-term sickness: That impacts your ability to do your job despite best efforts being made by the employer to support you in doing so
- Statutory restriction: Continuing to employ you would break the law
- Redundancy: When the employer’s financial situation means they are unable to continue your employment or if the role you are in is no longer needed
If you were not dismissed due to one of the above reasons then it’s possible you were unfairly dismissed. Furthermore, even if you were dismissed due to one of the above reasons, proper procedures must still have been followed in the process of your termination. These steps should have included making you aware of the problems and giving you time to address them, as well as issuing you formal warnings. You must also be sure that, even if these procedures were followed, you were not discriminated against for any reason aside from your professional conduct or capabilities.
It’s important to recognise that an employer who sites one of the above causes for dismissal must be able to prove that this was the case. For example, if you have been dismissed and the employer has given long-term sickness as the reason, they must be able to demonstrate that this impaired your ability to carry out your contractual duties. If, in this case, you have a disability and the company failed to provide access for you to do your job then it is the employer who has acted unlawfully. This would then certainly qualify as a claim for unfair dismissal.
Signs You Have Been Unfairly Dismissed
Whether you feel your dismal was unfair and whether it was legally unfair can be two different things and it can be hard to tell the difference. Firstly, for a claim of unfair dismissal to be successful, you must not have broken your employment contract. So, if your job contractually began at 9am and you have been dismissed, after due warnings, for regularly arriving for work at 9.30am, then you have broken the contract terms and you have no claim. Even if you believe that this did not impair your professional performance.
However, there are many valid claims made for unfair dismissal every day and you should raise concerns if you suspect this has happened to you. Especially if you believe you have been discriminated against based on age, disability, race, religion, sex or sexual orientation. This is highly unlawful. Most often, there are signs that you are being discriminated against in the workplace before dismissal. If you’re experiencing this then it’s important to keep a record of all instances as this can help you prove discrimination occurred.
Furthermore, although you can be let go due to ‘not being a good fit,’ this cannot be due to your age, gender, race, religion, etc. It must be based solely on your professional ability, skills and work ethic.
So, what are the common signs of unfair dismissal?
Usually, we’d be looking for a trigger – a reason why an employer might have changed their mind about whether your employment was still in their interest. Prior to unfair dismissal, some people may have:
- Announced a pregnancy or applied for maternity, paternity or adoption leave
- Exposed wrongdoing in the workplace
- Requested flexible working
- Already resigned
- Joined a trade union
- Refused to work during uncontracted hours or forfeit any of their working rights
If you had taken any of the above actions, have been dismissed sometime after, and feel that the two are connected, then you may have a claim to unfair dismissal. It would then be up to your former employer to prove their given reason for your dismissal and for you to contest this.
Can You Claim For Unfair Dismissal If Made Redundant?
Even if you’ve been made redundant and been offered a redundancy package, if discrimination or any of the reasons above has influenced you being selected for redundancy then it is still unfair dismissal. This means you are still entitled to reject your redundancy offer and take your employer to an employment tribunal.
What To Do If You Have Been Unfairly Dismissed
Deciding whether or not to pursue a case of unfair dismissal can be difficult. Some people prefer to move on and focus on alternative employment. Others are afraid they will be unable to prove unfair dismissal. Often an employer who knows you may have a case for unfair dismissal will offer you a redundancy package hoping that the financial incentive will be enough to deter you from legal action. Due to the stress and time that pursuing legal action can take, the redundancy package approach is thought to be fairly successful. However, this protects the employer’s reputation and arguably puts them in a position to treat future employees in the same way.
Whilst escalating a case of discrimination or unfair dismissal may seem the right thing to do, you are under no moral or legal obligation to do so. There may be every chance you will be successful, hold your former employer to account and even receive financial compensation. However, as well as the many benefits of taking legal action against unfair dismissal, it’s important to also consider your wellbeing when making your decision.
A good lawyer will be able to advise you on the likeliness of success and let you know what the process will involve. Therefore, a consultation with an employment lawyer might be your first step in judging whether you have a claim for unfair dismissal. If you have not yet been formally dismissed it may be that mediation can be useful. If your employment has already ended, then a lawyer will be able to guide you through the process of going to an employment tribunal and represent you there. You can find an employment legal advisor on LegalDrop’s legal services platform, where there are no hidden fees and you can book a consultation instantly.
Other means of seeking counsel in a claim for unfair dismissal include:
- Contacting Citizens Advice
- Speaking to your Trade Union representative (if applicable)
- Referring the issue to a professional body you are a member of
You may also find the following organisations helpful if you’re experiencing discrimination:
Pregnant Then Screwed – advice for those experiencing discrimination based on having, or planning to have, children
Equality Advisory Services – for those who suspect discrimination or experiencing inequality in the workplace
ACAS – advice on how the employment tribunal process works (not legal advice)