Losing Your Job

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No one stays in a job forever, and you’ll move on from every job eventually, whether through resignation, dismissal, promotion, redundancy or retirement.

Either party to a contract of employmentworker or employer – can terminate that contract by giving notice (although the employer will need a lawful reason and must follow a fair procedure). Most contracts will contain an express written term detailing the notice which must be given by either side. Workers also have statutory rights to a minimum notice period and protection against unfair dismissal.

From a legal point of view, a dismissal takes place when:

  • the employer terminates the employment, with or without notice (a dismissal without notice is a ‘summary dismissal’ due to, for example, gross misconduct);
  • a fixed-term contract expires and is not renewed; or
  • the employer’s behaviour amounts to such a fundamental (serious) breach of the contract of employment that the employee is entitled to resign and consider him or herself as having been dismissed.

Unfair dismissal

All employees have legal protection against unfair dismissal after two years of continuous service with their employer. They have this right regardless of the number of hours per week that they work.

There are some statutory fair reasons for dismissal. If your dismissal is not for one of these reasons, it could be unfair. This means that you could take your case to an employment tribunal, seeking reinstatement in your job or compensation. In addition, if the dismissal is for one of the statutory reasons, tribunals will judge the fairness of the dismissal against factors such as the reasonableness of the employer’s behaviour, and their size and administrative resources.

Automatically unfair dismissal

Even if you have insufficient continuous service with your employer to bring a standard unfair dismissal claim, you may still be able to claim 'automatically unfair' dismissal.

If a dismissal is automatically unfair, this means that the employer is not allowed to argue that dismissal for that reason was reasonable. Instead, the very fact that the main reason for dismissal was one of the reasons identified as ‘automatically unfair’ will make the dismissal unfair.

The right to protection from most forms of automatically unfair dismissal is available from day one of the employment.

Examples include dismissals linked to:

  • membership of, or activities connected to, an independent trade union, including supporting trade union recognition;
  • taking legitimate steps to ensure the observance of workplace health and safety requirements;
  • carrying out the functions of an elected employee representative or candidate for election or taking part in an election for reps;
  • carrying out the functions of an occupational pension scheme trustee;
  • a reason relating to jury service;
  • disclosures of wrongdoing under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (whistleblowing);
  • pregnancy or childbirth;
  • asserting any statutory right, for example:
    • trying to take advantage of statutory family or other care-related entitlements, such as asking to take paternity leave;
    • asking to work flexibly or part-time; or
    • exercising the right to be accompanied or acting as a companion;
  • refusing to work on a Sunday if working in retail or betting (unless part of your existing contract);
  • seeking entitlements under the National Minimum Wage Act 1998;
  • a reason relating to information on a blacklist; or
  • a reason relating to pensions auto-enrolment.

There are two categories of automatically unfair dismissal that still require the worker to have completed two years of service. These are:

  • a dismissal because of a business transfer, in breach of the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 (TUPE); or
  • a dismissal relating to a spent criminal conviction.

Employees are also protected where a dismissal is discriminatory because it relates to one of the characteristics protected by equality legislation (i.e. race, disability, sex, pregnancy/maternity, marriage/civil partnership, being transgender, sexual orientation, religion or belief). No service is needed to challenge a dismissal on this basis.

You do not need any service if you are dismissed because of your political opinions or beliefs. You can bring a claim if you are dismissed for this reason from day one of your employment. However, a dismissal for this reason will not be automatically unfair. In other words, your employer is free to argue that it had good reasons for dismissing you because of your political beliefs.

You might, for example, hold an offensive belief such as a belief in white supremacy. Your employer is likely to be able to dismiss you fairly for holding this kind of political belief, especially if you try to impose it on those around you, as long as your employer follows a fair process in which you get a proper chance to defend yourself.

There is no longer an upper age limit on bringing a claim of unfair dismissal to an employment tribunal and retirement is no longer a fair reason for dismissal.

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Note: This content is provided as general background information and should not be taken as legal advice or financial advice for your particular situation. Make sure to get individual advice on your case from your union, a source on our free help page or an independent financial advisor before taking any action.