In many countries, there are different employment laws to England and Wales. In some parts of the United States and Canada, for example, if you have an “At Will” employment contract, your employer can fire you without giving you a reason. Employment Law in England and Wales is rather different and rather more complicated.
Providing the company directly employs you (rather than you being a temporary worker, employed through an employment agency, or a freelancer), and you have worked for the employer for more than a year, your employer would normally have to go through an approved dismissal procedure, and tell you the reason why he or she is sacking you. If he or she fails to do so, you may have a legal case for unfair dismissal. Your company policies and procedures, staff handbook, or your employment contract and its enclosed documents will outline your company’s disciplinary and dismissal procedures. However, there are exceptions to these rules.
If you have a year’s continuous service with the employer, he or she must provide you with the reason for your dismissal in writing. You have the right to ask for this document and your employer must respond within fourteen days of your request. A refusal or failure to comply with the request may give you the right to take a case before the employment tribunal.
Employers cannot legally dismiss women for any reason connected with pregnancy. Pregnant women have the right to written reasons for dismissal and without a qualifying service period. Employers cannot sack workers for refusing to carry out illegal orders or refusing to work in an illegal manner. An employer cannot ever legally fire you for refusing to break the law, since were you to do so you would be liable with him for a crime. If your employer fires you, in these circumstances, you have grounds for an unfair dismissal case at the Employment Tribunal.
There are a few circumstances where your employer does not need to go through disciplinary procedures. If you are fired for gross misconduct, your employer need not follow the disciplinary procedure, but does have to inform you in writing why you are being fired.
Agency workers can accrue legal rights against their agency, but special rules apply. The Trades Union Congress leaflet “Agency Workers Have Rights Too” explains these rights clearly.
There is little statutory protection, under English and Welsh Law, for most employees with less than 12 months service, this qualifying service period will increase to two years in April 2012. In short, under English law, all employees who have at least 12 months ( 2 years after April 2012) continuous service must receive, upon oral or written request, the employer’s written statement of reasons for dismissal within 14 days. However, employees dismissed during pregnancy, maternity or adoption leave are entitled to a written statement of reasons for dismissal, regardless of their service, and should receive such a statement, whether they requested one or not.
However, employees not covered by those conditions, who have less than 12 months (2 years after April 2012) continuous service have no legal right to a written statement of reasons for dismissal.
For further advice regarding dismissal go to The Trades Union Congress, TUC website or The Advisory, Conciliation, and Arbitration Service (ACAS) website both contain valuable information about employment rights. A.C.A.S. has an employee helpline and they will give advice and guidance, on all employment issues, by telephone.
Your employer may dispute whether you are legally an employee. However, just because your employer labels you as something other than an employee, it does not mean that you are not an employee. There is a legal definition of who counts as an employee and this depends entirely on what actually happens in the workplace. The TUC web pages give a comprehensive explanation legal employment status, including a section on bogus self-employment.
Under English and Welsh Law an employer can fire you without telling you why, but only in particular circumstances.