Automatically unfair dismissal

09 July 2019

Automatically unfair dismissal occurs when the dismissal violates an employee’s statutory legal rights. In most cases, reasons for dismissal are considered automatically unfair because they violate one or more of an employee’s statutory employment rights. There are approximately 60 grounds for which an employee can claim automatic unfair dismissal. We have listed the most common circumstances below:

  • Dismissals related to maternity and paternity
  • Dismissals related to union membership
  • Dismissals related to health and safety representatives
  • Dismissals for refusal to work over 48 hours on average
  • Dismissals for insisting on being paid the National Minimum Wage

Employees and their statutory rights

Automatically unfair dismissal is directly related to an employee’s rights. Firstly, it is crucial that employees are aware of the legal distinction between ordinary unfair dismissal and automatically unfair dismissal. When an employment tribunal considers an employee’s claim for ordinary unfair dismissal, they must follow certain legal protocol. This includes establishing exactly how long the employee has been working for the company in question. Generally, the employee is required to have a minimum of two years’ qualifying service in order to make a claim against the employer. However, in cases of automatically unfair dismissal, the employee can make a claim to a tribunal regardless of the length of time they have been employed.

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Employers and the implications for their business

In cases of automatically unfair dismissal, once it has been established that the employee has been dismissed for an automatically unfair reason, the tribunal will have no cause to consider whether the employer acted reasonably or not. Simply put, if the employee’s claim for automatically unfair dismissal is substantiated, the employer automatically loses the right to defend their reasons for issuing the dismissal and will therefore lose the case. Maximum compensation for an automatically unfair dismissal claim is usually equal to a year’s pay (subject to a limit of £78,962, in addition to a basic award of a maximum of £14,370), although there are a few exceptions where compensation is unlimited. These exceptions include dismissal for a discriminatory reason, or for raising a health and safety complaint.

The law behind automatically unfair dismissal

The Employment Rights Act 1996 is the main piece of legislation covering automatic unfair dismissal. Be aware that this legislation is continually updated with new statutory employment rights. The latest statutory addition around automatic unfair dismissal came into effect on 11th January 2016. It states that employees on zero hours contracts who are dismissed for undertaking  additional work with another employer can claim automatic unfair dismissal.


  • Automatically unfair dismissal breaches an employee’s statutory legal rights.
  • Both employee and employer should be aware of their legal rights as documented in the the Employment Rights Act 1996.
  • Employers must be aware that substantiated claims for automatically unfair dismissal can result in severe implications for their business, and that their defence against this is limited.

Automatically unfair dismissal is directly related to the following aspects of employment: Summary Dismissal Tribunal Disabilities Ethnic Origin Sexual Harassment Constructive Dismissal

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