By the way it is trending, this article seems to have struck a nerve. Evidently a number of those engaging with the article are employees who relate to the world described, and who fear that they’re disposable with little job security.

The UK has laws to guard against this, so over here this environment could not be quite as extreme as portrayed in the article. It’s also worth bearing in mind that employees who have been in a particular job for less than 2 years have far fewer rights than those who have a longer tenure. Still, the fact remains that dismissing someone without complying with the proper process and reasons laid down by UK employment law is never going to be wise.

For the dismissal of an employee of more than 2 years’ tenure to be fair under UK law, it must be for one of the following reasons:

  1. the inappropriate/unlawful conduct of the employee;
  2. the employee’s capability or qualifications;
  3. redundancy;
  4. statutory restriction – i.e. that the employee could not continue in that position without the employer or employee contravening the law, e.g. immigration rules;
  5. some other substantial reason – which tribunals have interpreted restrictively to mean, for example a fundamental breakdown in an employer's trust and confidence in the employee or a business reorganisation (when it doesn’t amount to redundancy).

In addition, the dismissal of the employee must be fair in all the circumstances. For example, if an employer intends to dismiss an employee because of his/her unlawful conduct, the employer must:

  • carry out a reasonable investigation of the employee’s behaviour;
  • be able to demonstrate that it had a genuine belief that the employee had misbehaved as alleged; and
  • show that dismissal is a reasonable sanction for the conduct in question.

A single act of misconduct rarely warrants dismissal. Except in cases of gross misconduct (i.e. behaviour like theft or physical abuse, that is considered so culpable that it can justify dismissal without notice), at least one warning by the employer to the employee is needed.

Similarly in cases where the employer wishes to dismiss an employee on the basis that they are not capable to perform the tasks outlined in their job description, he/she cannot simply tell that employee they are under-performing – they must explain how the employee is under-performing and provide him/her with a chance to improve.

The bosses described by Dan Lyons in the article below might perhaps argue that each dismissal related to employee incapability - the company wants the best employees, so if an employee has lost that creative streak, or if a better employee has come along, why not cast them aside? It’s best for business, isn’t it? As described by Lyons, his colleague was told to leave in two weeks with no explanation. In the UK, she could have won a claim for unfair dismissal as she was not told where the fault lay or given a chance to improve. On their own, the above grounds for arguing incapability would not have carried weight or prospects of success for the employer in the UK.

What about those who’ve been in the job for less than 2 years? Here, employers do have greater flexibility to remove an employee and there are fewer legal ‘hoops’ through which employers need to jump. This is because unfair dismissal rights are only gained after two years’ service – until that point it is quite easy to dismiss an employee. However, dismissing someone with no explanation would still be risky, because there are other claims that can be brought even where an employee has less than two years’ service, in particular discrimination claims. Indeed, we’re seeing a rising trend in these types of allegation being levelled by unhappy employees against UK employers who have sought to dismiss those employees before the expiry of 2 years.

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