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Employers Need to Know: What Constitutes Unfair Dismissal

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As an employer it is important that you know what constitutes unfair dismissal so that you don’t leave your business vulnerable to employment tribunals. Typically an employee would need to have been continuously in your employment for at least two years in order to make a claim for unfair dismissal. However, certain actions taken by employers or managers will result in a rule that is known as automatically unfair dismissal. Here is a brief overview of the most common types of automatically unfair dismissal:


If you have dismissed an employee after they have exercised rights to do with pregnancy and maternity you are at a very high risk of an unfair dismissal claim. This can include dismissal over disputes regarding maternity leave or pay which is a statutory right.

Family reasons

Family reasons can cover a broad range of issues such as parental leave which protects parents and the leave which they are entitled to for the birth and adoption of children. Birth leave and adoption leave are a statutory right which both parents of the child are often entitled to, whether the child is adopted or born into the family. Dismissing an employee for requesting or taking this leave, which they are entitled to, is extremely likely to result in an unfair dismissal claim.

A less well known type of leave which employees are equally entitled to, is time off for dependants, sometimes known as compassionate leave. Compassionate leave or time off for dependants refers to time which employees may need to take in order to care for family or those who live with them. The exact law around time off for dependants can be a little confusing, particularly if the employer doesn’t feel like the person in question qualifies as a dependant. If you believe that an employee wants either excessive time off for a dependant or you feel like the person in question is not in fact a dependant, you should always consult an employment law professional before taking action as this could easily result in an unfair dismissal claim if handled improperly.

Trade union membership or representation

Any dismissal as a result of trade union membership or activity will automatically result in unfair dismissal.

Similarly, if you are dismissing someone based on that person accompanying a colleague to a disciplinary or grievance hearing or acting as an employee representative then this will automatically be considered unfair dismissal.


Employees are protected by law against discrimination for reasons such as:

  • Sexual orientation
  • Religion
  • Disability
  • Age
  • Race
  • Marriage

Dismissing employees based on any of the above characteristics is highly illegal and will put your business at serious risk.

Pay and working hours

Working Time Regulations, minimum wage and annual leave are all statutory rights for employees and dismissing an employee over any of these issues is an unfair dismissal.

Additional reasons for unfair dismissal

This has been a brief list of some causes for dismissal which will automatically be considered unfair, but there are other less common reasons for unfair dismissal which include:

  • Whistle blowing within your organisation
  • Political beliefs or affiliations
  • Specific health and safety issues

Protect your business

It is your responsibility as an employer to know the statutory rights which your employees are entitled to by law. By understanding these laws and the laws around unfair dismissal you are protecting your business against unfair dismissal claims and employment tribunals. If you are unsure of a dismissal issue with an employee, contact an employment law expert for free impartial advice on 0161 115 6164.

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