Dutiful dismissals: The compliant approach to letting an employee go

The prospect of dismissing an employee can fill managers with dread. In fact, it’s not uncommon for them to feel held to ransom by the thought of a costly employment tribunal and a PR nightmare. Chris Cook explains why this doesn’t need to be the case.

Dismissal is the logical response to an employee who has trouble working in harmony with your organisational objectives. This can range from being ill-suited for a particular role, to being actively disruptive to forward progression. However challenging the situation, leaving it to fester can cause a great deal of financial damage, and can negatively impact other staff members.

But what about the laws protecting employees? Well, there is certainly a right and wrong way to approach dismissal, but if you apply a fair and consistent procedure then you have the law on your side. Here are some key things to bear in mind to dismiss employees dutifully:

The last resort

Dismissal is the final action at the end of your disciplinary procedure, after all reasonable attempts have been made to improve the employee’s contribution. The only scenario where instant dismissal would be permitted is if they break a serious term of their employment contract, but legal advice is recommended if this is the case. You need to be certain that an employment tribunal won’t find the action to be excessive.

Start off-the-record

Ideally, begin with an informal chat with the employee to bring their attention to your concerns, which may be all that is needed to get them to amend their behaviour. Launching straight into formal procedures such as a disciplinary warning is a big step that can cause unnecessary friction. In some cases, it may be appropriate to have this chat with another senior member of staff present to witness the discussion.

Be clear about the reasons

One of the main causes of unfair dismissal is the reasons given by the employer, so make sure you’re clear about what they are. If it’s performance-related, make sure you have a clear benchmark. If the employee can prove that other team members do the same amount of work or less, a tribunal could turn against you. If the employee is being disruptive, make sure you have a tangible record or witness to the damage being caused. If you’re not sure, seek legal advice first.

Stick to the procedure

Fair treatment is the key concept to bear in mind. You need to prove that you apply the same procedure to all staff regardless of who they are or what they do at the organisation. Generally speaking, your disciplinary procedure should be robust enough to handle most situations but, if you find you need to deviate, seek legal guidance first.

Stay positive

Emotions can sometimes get the better of us, but try to keep them out of the situation if possible. Your aim is to get the employee to conform with the requirements of their role, not to encourage them to leave – another key cause of unfavourable tribunal awards. This can be tough if it’s your organisation and someone is actively wasting your money, but distancing yourself emotionally can minimise the risk of saying and doing things that could ultimately work to your disadvantage.

Optimise your recruitment process

Finally, the HR adage of “more time spent hiring means less time spent firing” is as true as ever. Create an exceptional recruitment process that tests employees in multiple ways, and includes thorough background and reference checks. Make sure even those seemingly perfect candidates are what they say that are. 


If you would like more information or advice relating to this article or an Employment law matter, please do not hesitate to contact Chris Cook on 01727 798098.

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