Unfair dismissal

Who can claim unfair dismissal?

Unfair dismissal is a statutory right that is set out in the Employment Rights Act 1996.


Only ‘employees’ are entitled to claim unfair dismissal. ‘Workers’ and the genuinely self-employed are excluded. There are no exceptions to this rule.


Further information on 'employee' status


Full and part-time employees can claim, and there are no lower or upper age limits.


There are two main types of unfair dismissal:

'Automatic' unfair dismissal

In some circumstances dismissal will be a response to an employee asserting their employment rights.  Where a right to automatic unfair dismissal exists an employer cannot argue that their behaviour was reasonable and so the unfair dismissal will be 'automatically' proved. 


In most automatic dismissal claims there is no minimum service period.


Further information on automatic unfair dismissal

Ordinary unfair dismissal

In other cases employees must usually have a minimum period of continuous employment with the employer who has dismissed them.

  • For employees who started employment before 6 April 2012 one year of continuous service is needed. 
  • For employees who started on or after 6 April 2012 two year's of continuous service will be needed.

Further information on continuous service


Further information on ordinary unfair dismissal


Both automatic and 'ordinary' unfair dismissal claims can be made at the same time if the employee meets the criteria for both claims.

Dismissal because of discrimination

There may be a separate claim for discrimination if the reason for the dismissal is discrimination by the employer, commonly age, pregnancy, maternity and disability can be reasons for dismissal that raise discrimination issues but other protections apply as well.


Further information on discrimination

Employees who cannot claim unfair dismissal

  • Members of the armed forces,
  • members of the police service,
  • employees working for government departments where a national security certificate has been issued.
  • Employees working under illegal contracts. As with the ordinary law of contract, a contract of employment which is illegal will be unenforceable. The most common example will be payment of wages by 'cash in hand' to illegally evade tax. If the employee has agreed to such an arrangement they may not be able to claim unfair dismissal.

Employment tribunal time limits for unfair dismissal claims

All claims for unfair dismissal must be made to an Employment Tribunal within 3 months of the date the contract of employment ended.


In exceptional circumstances a tribunal can extend its jurisdiction and allow a late claim.


More information on extending time limits for unfair dismissal claims

Remedies for unfair dismissal

If an employee succeeds in a claim for unfair dismissal there are three outcomes (usually called remedies) that the employment tribunal can award:

  • Reinstatement
  • Re-engagement
  • Compensation

The main remedy is compensation as it is usually difficult to repair the relationship between the employer and the employee and make reinstatement or re-engagement a practical option.

More information on compensation for unfair dismissal

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