You're fired. What are the rules for dismissing employees?

Dismissing an employee is rarely something that employers relish. In fact, some employers will do anything to avoid having to fire a member of staff; sometimes leaving poor performance or attitude problems to go on for far too long.

By Karen Credie, KMCHR.

The overriding reason that businesses hold back from dismissing staff is the fear of being taken to an employment tribunal. Facing an unfair dismissal claim not only costs businesses in terms of time seeking professional representation and preparing your defence, but also has the potential to cause damage to your reputation.

However, business owners should not feel that they can’t dismiss employees if they have good reason.

Under the eyes of the law you have five reasons under which you can dismiss an employee from a business. These are:

  • conduct or behaviour
  • capability
  • redundancy
  • breach of a statutory restriction
  • some other substantial reason (eg. a company restructure)
The key to dealing with employee dismissals is to act fairly and reasonably. The business should investigate the matter thoroughly and consider alternative penalties – all the while recoding that they have done so. It is also important to act consistently – if other similar instances of employee behaviour have occurred, the same penalty should be shown to have applied.

If dealing with a disciplinary matter, employers should adopt the practices as outlined in their employee handbook. Generally, this will involve sufficient time for the matter to be investigated, followed by a hearing at which the employee will be allowed to put forward their version of events. Make sure the employee is given the right to be accompanied at the hearing by another work colleague or a trade union representative.

Generally it would be considered unreasonable for an employee to be dismissed upon a first offence, unless it could be considered gross misconduct. If a written warning is issued, allow employees a specified time period in which to appeal against the decision.

Employers should also remember that employees with less than two years’ service do not have unfair dismissal rights, apart from exceptions generally relating to equality and discrimination. Disciplinary matters and dismissals are often where employers come unstuck. KMR HR can provide businesses with advice on how to deal with employee exits whilst acting within the legal boundaries. Please contact us if you need further advice.