Unfair dismissal. The words are enough to strike fear in the heart of any employer. They are enough to make you not want to deal with a serious situation involving your employees in case you get it wrong. The consequences of getting it wrong can be costly. For example, the average compensation awarded by the Employment Tribunal in 2010/11 was almost £9,000.
It doesn’t have to be complicated though. There are some key things to remember about how to get it right from the beginning. Above all, be fair and consistent with each member of staff and talk to them.
- Make sure you have disciplinary procedures in place. Not only is this a legal requirement (since the Employment Act 2002), but it also makes sure that staff know what will happen if they break your company rules.
- Once you have your disciplinary procedures in place, make sure you use them properly. Mean what you say and say what you mean.
- Tell the staff about your rules. You can’t expect to discipline someone if they don’t know they’re doing something wrong! Imagine you have a member of staff who uses the internet for personal purposes at work. Your policy bans web surfing during core working hours. Seems simple enough. You dismiss her for gross misconduct, correct? However, when this particular member of staff was dismissed for exactly that reason, she claimed unfair dismissal and won. Why? She was not told that her online activities would be monitored. So you need to tell people about your company standards – ideally in a staff handbook which is easily accessible and regularly reviewed.
- Give every employee a fair hearing or a chance to explain.
- Keep accurate records and copies of everything relating to the issue.
- If you decide on an improvement notice (i.e. you both agree that behaviour or performance will improve by a certain deadline), make sure you give them enough time to improve.
- They also need to know the consequences of continued misconduct or poor performance so tell them what the next stages are.
- Investigate thoroughly – ask everyone involved and don’t just assume you already know the answer.
- Take all circumstances into account – you need to be able to prove that you did if/when you decide to dismiss the employee.
- Treat all employees consistently – if you don’t and you get caught out, that will seriously weaken your case at Employment Tribunal.
To recap, do you treat all your staff fairly and consistently? Have you told them what you expect of them and the consequences of not behaving or performing to your standards? Do you talk to them about any changes to your company rules? If the answer to all of these questions is “yes” then when it comes to dismissing someone, you are much less likely to have a disgruntled ex-employee taking you to an Employment Tribunal.