In this guide we aim to clarify what wrongful dismissal in the UK is, how it relates to gross misconduct and offer some practical guidance on what you can do if you are involved in such a case.
Remember to try our free Settlement Agreements Calculator to see how much you should get in your settlement in these circumstances.
What is wrongful dismissal?
Not being paid your notice pay is technically known as Wrongful Dismissal. In practice, it actually means that you were dismissed without being paid for your notice period.
Example of wrongful dismissal
For example, let’s say that your contract of employment stipulates that your employer has to give a month’s notice to terminate your employment. However, your employer tells you that you are dismissed, that you should go home immediately and that you won’t be paid your month’s notice.
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Appeal any dismissal decision
Check your notice period
Keep records of your job applications
Getting another job during your notice period: Impact on your claim
Bear in mind that if you are fortunate enough to get another job during your notice period, then this would reduce any claim you might have in an employment tribunal for wrongful dismissal compensation.
That is because you have ‘mitigated’ your loss. Say your notice pay was worth £3000 net, but you earned £2000 net in the notice period, then you have only lost £1,000 net, so that is the value of your claim.
Of course, you don’t have to disclose to your ex-employer the fact that you have got a new job prior to issuing tribunal proceedings (you need to declare it at that point) so unless they ask you then they may well assume that you haven’t.
In a strong case, we would normally negotiate the payment of the notice pay plus a payment reflecting future loss as well, and such a deal would be enshrined in a settlement agreement.
Gross misconduct and wrongful dismissal
The most common form of wrongful dismissal claim at an employment tribunal is against an employer who accuses you of gross misconduct, but you argue that you are innocent of the charge.
You see, in gross misconduct scenarios at work, the employer is entitled by law to dismiss you without paying your notice pay. That is because by your actions you have effectively torn up the contract of employment, and therefore your entitlement to notice pay goes with it.
Examples of gross misconduct
Extreme examples of gross misconduct include punching the boss or being caught with your fingers in the till.
More common examples can include for example being caught working for your company’s clients on the side or being spotted on social media in the Caribbean when you’re supposed to be tucked up in bed with the flu in Birmingham.
Can you make a gross misconduct appeal?
You can appeal against the decision to sack you for gross misconduct if you consider that you are not guilty of the misconduct charge. You should appeal the decision immediately. See our guide on Appeals for practical guidance.
When to start negotiating in a misconduct case?
If your misconduct appeal has not been upheld and you have already been dismissed for conduct issues, then the chances are that the time to negotiate has already passed.
If you are not guilty of the misconduct you’ve been sacked for, you will probably have to start Acas pre-claim conciliation, commence proceedings and try and negotiate while at the same time fighting a claim.
It’s possible however that your employer will want to save money on legal fees and they will often make an offer on this basis. So you do have a chance, but the money you receive may not be as much as if you had negotiated at an earlier stage – had that been possible.
Misconduct claims are difficult to win for employees in tribunals. The employer only needs to show that they acted reasonably and that their decision to dismiss for misconduct was within the ‘range of reasonable responses’ open to them in the situation, and they will win the case.
Therefore, if you are accused of misconduct and your employer is threatening dismissal as one of the options open to them, that’s a good time to negotiate.
Talking to your employer if you’ve been accused of misconduct
If your employer has not offered a protected conversation , or a without prejudice meeting, you should suggest it. In misconduct cases, it is often better to talk things through with your employer in a without prejudice meeting, rather than commence correspondence.
This is because people have a tendency to defend themselves in correspondence, or to accuse their employer of acting improperly, and in a negotiation where misconduct has been alleged, this is not the way to go about things.
Should I admit I’ve done something wrong?
If you have done something wrong at work then it can help your negotiating cause to admit to it. It is never easy to admit to ourselves that we have done something wrong, messed up or acted improperly, but it may be the only way of negotiating a settlement package.
You don’t necessarily have to agree that what you have done is as serious or as extensive as your employer suggests.
Sometimes an apology and a promise to work hard to make things right would mean that the employer may not even dismiss you at all.
So, if you don’t want to leave and the misconduct you have committed is not something so terrible that it can never be forgiven, contrition and an apology may save your job.
How should I close a misconduct negotiation?
So, you should arrange a without prejudice meeting, potentially admit some culpability in what has happened, apologise, but explain that you have taken legal advice and you don’t think it is enough to dismiss you.
Then say that you understand that, in the circumstances, your employer may wish you to leave and, if that’s the case, then you would be willing to consider leaving for a reference, your notice, and a number of months’ salary.
Believe us, your employer will appreciate that approach. They don’t want to go around sacking people and then dealing with the consequences.
They may want you to leave, but they will sincerely appreciate your behaviour in the without prejudice meeting, and will more likely than not engage with you in negotiations for compensation and a settlement agreement.
With a settlement agreement, you will have a reference, your notice pay and a sum of money to see you through to your next job.
The alternative is to fight the case, get dismissed, and then call a solicitor who will tell you that you do not have sufficient prospects of success to win an employment tribunal claim.
Which would you rather have?