Unfair dismissal

If you’ve been sacked but think it was unjustified you might have a case for unfair dismissal. But how do you go about challenging your employer?

Being fired in an office

You can challenge their decision

What is unfair dismissal?

Before you storm into the office, all guns blazing, you need to work out if your sacking was justified. Unfair dismissal is when you’re forced to leave your job for illegitimate reasons. These can be automatically unfair, or it can depend on the circumstances.

It’s automatically a case of unfair dismissal if:

  • You’ve been discriminated against because of your sex, race, disability, sexuality or age.
  • You’re pregnant, on maternity leave, or you’re boss stops you returning after maternity leave.
  • You’ve tried to claim one of your basic rights, like having minimum wage, paid holiday, sick pay, or rest breaks, and been dismissed because of it.
  • You work for a shop or betting shop and have refused to work on a Sunday.
  • You’ve been fired for being part of a trade union, or have joined in with any of their actions.
  • You’ve reported something your company or organisation has been involved with for the benefit of the public. This is called ‘whistle-blowing’.

It may be a case of unfair dismissal if:

  • If your employer says you’re not capable of doing the job, either because you don’t have the right skills or because of illness.
  • You don’t have the right qualifications, or no longer have them.
  • If you’ve been fired for your behaviour, e.g. you photocopied your arse at the Christmas party, or you’ve turned up to work hungover and incapable of stringing a sentence together. (But if it’s because you’ve stolen something, harassed someone, broken health and safety rules, or been violent, then this will almost definitely be fair dismissal.)
  • If you’ve been made redundant and the employer hasn’t spoken to you properly, or you haven’t been chosen fairly, or there was another job you could have taken which wasn’t offered to you.

These situations can only be unfair dismissal if you’ve been in your job for over a year (or two years if you started after April 2012).

I think my dismissal was unfair, what can I do?

The easiest thing to do is sort it out with your employer yourself. Once your boss has told you you’ve been dismissed, you should be able to question their decision. They’ll discuss your appeal with you and then make a final decision.

If you still think it’s a case of unfair dismissal, you can take it to an employment tribunal. You have to do this within three months of being dismissed, so contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) as soon as you can to get advice.

Your other option is to go to Acas. If your case is quite straightforward, they can sort your claim out more quickly, simply and informally. However, if you use Acas and don’t like their decision, you’re not allowed to appeal or take it to a tribunal. So, before you decide to go down this route, it’s worth having a chat with CAB, and talking through your options.

What compensation can I get?

If you win your case, you’ll usually get both a ‘compensatory award’ and ‘basic award’.

The basic award depends on how much you’re earning. If you’re 21 or younger you get half a weeks pay for every week you have worked in that job. If you’re aged between 22 and 41, you get the whole weeks pay for every week you have worked.

The compensatory award is made up of anything you’ll have lost out on, like bonuses or overtime, and can reach a maximum of £74,200. But any claims you’ve made, like JSA or income support, will be taken from the end figure the court gives you.

The employment tribunal could decide you should get your job back, but this is very rare.

Photo of being fired by Shutterstock

Next Steps

  • Acas offers free advice about everything to do with employment law. 0300 123 1100
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.


work rights


Updated on 29-Sep-2015