What is an automatic unfair dismissal?

When considering a claim for unfair dismissal, the Employment Tribunal will follow a certain legal protocol decide whether there will be a full hearing to decide on your case, such as determining how long an employee has been working for an organisation. As a general rule, employees cannot make a claim for unfair dismissal until they have been employed for an organisation for a minimum period of two years.

However, certain reasons an employer may have for dismissing an employee can be defined as ‘automatically unfair’. If you have dismissed a member of staff, and the circumstances given fall under one or more of the categories featured below, then they may still be able to make claim at the Employment Tribunal, regardless of their length of service, as each is considered as a breach of an employee’s statutory legal rights through legislation within the Employment Rights Act 1996.

What are automatic unfair reasons for dismissals?

Even if you’ve acted reasonably, some reasons for dismissal are classed as automatically unfair, and there are several grounds for which an employee can claim automatic unfair dismissal. The areas under which these claims are made include: –

  • Whistleblowing
  • Acting as an employee or a trade union representative
  • Dismissal relating to trade union representative
  • Pay and working hours, including the Working Time Regulations, annual leave and the National Minimum Wage
  • Acting as an occupational pension scheme trustee

Pregnancy, extending to all reasons relating to maternity/paternity, parental and adoption leave or time off for dependants

Compulsory retirement on the grounds of age is also unlawful unfair dismissal, unless you can objectively justify it – but this could be challenged at an Employment Tribunal.


If you are a business owner or senior decision maker (we do not deal with employees) and are affected by any of the issues raised in this article and would like to speak to an HR Employment Law expert confidentially and FREE of charge then do not hesitate to call us 24/7 x 365 on 01702 447145.

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What if it is considered an automatically unfair reason?

Should an Employment Tribunal determine that the claim being made against you is considered as an automatic unfair dismissal, then you will not be able to defend the claim. It won’t matter whether you acted reasonably or not, if the claim is substantiated then you will most likely lose the case.

You may be expected to either: –

  1. Reinstate the employee within the organisation
  2. Pay compensation

The compensation awarded will usually depend on your employee’s: –

  • Age
  • Gross weekly pay
  • Their length of service

There is a limit on the amount an Employment Tribunal can award for unfair dismissal, apart from in cases relating to dismissals for a discriminatory reason, or for raising a health and safety complaint.

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