Unjustified dismissal

As an employer, it is crucial that you are aware of your legal responsibilities when dealing with your employees. Being unaware of the law or not keeping up to date with changes to the law, will not be a defence if there is a breakdown of the relationship and the employee takes legal action.

Consider the following scenarios:

Your employee has failed repeatedly to follow your instructions, rides the farm motorbike without a helmet, often arrives late for milking (for which you’ve given warnings in the past), and today you’ve walked around the corner of the shed and found your employee enjoying a beer. You’ve had a bad day that started with you putting a scratch down the side of your car, and you realise in that instant that you’ve had enough! You remind your employee of the previous unheeded warnings, tell them their services are no longer required, and send your employee home with instructions to never return. Two days later, you receive a letter from your employee that they are raising a personal grievance for unjustified dismissal and requesting compensation from you.

You are at risk of having to pay the employee compensation for unjustified dismissal, together with lost wages and reimbursement of costs.

You failed to conduct a good faith process which must include, as just one of the steps, giving your employee the opportunity to explain their conduct to you. It is imperative that you follow the dismissal procedures in your employment agreement and adhere to the requirements of good faith and dismissal by a fair and reasonable employer as set out in the Employment Relations Act, or you will be at risk of having unjustifiably dismissed your employee.

As an alternative to sending your employee home, you roar at them, explaining loudly and colorfully the error of their ways, resulting in your employee telling you that they don’t appreciate your attitude and don’t intend to work for you for a minute longer, and are quitting as of now! You gladly agree and happily accept their resignation right there on the spot. Your employee storms off to their vehicle and drives away in a dusty cloud of smoke and rubber. You breathe a sigh of relief, mumble quietly to yourself that you wish them well for the future, and are surprised to receive, only a few days later, a letter from the resigned employee raising a personal grievance and requesting compensation.

Again, you are at risk of having to pay the employee compensation for constructive dismissal, together with lost wages and reimbursement of costs.

The Employment Relations Authority have, on several occasions, awarded compensation to an employee who has resigned in the heat of the moment and then raised a personal grievance for unjustified dismissal. The Authority has made these awards on the basis that a fair and reasonable employer should not take an employee’s resignation at face value without allowing a cooling-off period. The cooling-off period should be followed by a meeting to resolve the matter and to confirm the employee’s employment status.

For any employment-related matters, please contact Adeline Redman on 07 463 0104.