How to Dismiss Employees Safely

Letting people go is an area fraught with legal danger. Find out how to do it safely here

How to Dismiss Employees Safely

What happens if I need to get rid of someone who can’t do their job?

It happens all too often in business; you hire someone on the strength of a sparkling CV and a charming interview performance, only to find they are not all they claimed to be and can’t do the job to the required standard.

The law allows you to sack someone who is under-qualified or incompetent in this way, for one of four permitted reasons:

  • Incompetence: Generally, they might the skills needed to do the job properly.
  • Under qualification: There might be the lack of a needed professional qualification or academic degree.
  • Sickness or injury: You can dismiss someone for long-term sickness or injury that makes it impossible for them to do their job properly, but tread carefully as you are at risk of a disability discrimination claim. Before you sack someone, you must look into ways you could accommodate the needs of the employee to allow them to carry on their job, and give them reasonable time to recover from their illness.
  • Illegality: This is where it would be impossible for the employee to carry on because it would be against the law. A classic example is a lorry driver losing their licence.

If you have dismissed someone for one of the above reasons, you must demonstrate that you acted fairly in dismissing them; a tribunal will look at whether a reasonable employer in your position could have taken the same decision as you.

This is normally quite a wide test, and if you have been conscientious you needn’t worry in the majority of cases. Remember to explore all your options – such as offering additional training – before taking the decision to dismiss, and make sure the inability to perform the job is the real reason for dismissal, not just a convenient shield hiding another reason.

Remember, again, you must comply with your legal duties; give the employee the period of notice they are entitled to, and provide them with written reasons if they ask. Generally, if you are honest and comply with all your hard legal obligations, there will be little reason to worry.

Are there any other reasons I can dismiss an employee?

Other than ability or conduct, there are some other ways you can legally dismiss an employee:

  • Redundancy:you can dismiss an employee if the business (or part of it) closes, it relocates or is fundamentally restructured, or there is less need for employees more generally. There are special procedures governing redundancy and selection for it, which you can read more about here.
  • ‘Some other substantial reason’: this is a catch-all clause allowing you to sack an employee for some other fair reason not outlined explicitly by the law. For example, an employee might do their job perfectly well but they simply don’t get on with others, causing an adverse effect on morale. It’s a good idea to consult a legal professional if you are unsure.
  • Default retirement age: You can no longer sack an employee for simply being too old; you can dismiss on the grounds of age, but only when their age means they can’t do their job properly (for example, they are too frail).
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