Unlawful Reasons for Dismissal

In the United Kingdom, if your employment was made under the employment-at-will doctrine, your employer may dismiss you for no reason at all. However, there are a number of reasons, for which an employer cannot terminate the employment of an employee.

According to employment law UK, employers cannot dismiss employees for reasons that are in violation of anti-discrimination laws. Furthermore, they also cannot terminate the employment of an employee for reasons that would otherwise, violate public policy.

There are various anti-discrimination laws that prevent employers from dismissing employees for discriminatory reasons. This article will highlight some of the reasons that you cannot unlawfully dismiss someone for.

Protected characteristics

The Equality Act 2010 prohibits any act of discrimination on the basis of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership (in employment only), pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. These attributes are known as “protected characteristics” and there are nine protected characteristics, in total, in the Equality Act.

For example, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act prevents employers from discriminating on the basis of age. Therefore, whilst dismissing an older worker and replacing him or her with a younger worker, the employer must be able to show that there was a fair reason to do so, and not just age.

The Equality Act 2010 also protects you from discrimination by:

  • employers;
  • businesses and organisations, which provide goods or services like shops, banks, and utility companies;
  • health and care providers like care homes and hospitals;
  • someone you rent or buy a property from, such as estate agents and housing associations;
  • education providers, for example schools and colleges;
  • transport services for example buses, trains, and taxis;
  • public bodies such as local authorities and government departments;

Overall, if an employer treats their staff unfairly because they believe that an employee belongs to a group of people with protected characteristics, this is considered unlawful discrimination.

As an employer, therefore, you may be adamant that you would never fire an employee for a discriminatory reason. This is why it is also important for employers to keep records and documentation of any employee grievances and complaints.


Employment law UK also prohibits employers from dismissing employees for any reason that violates public policy. One such reason, for which employers cannot fire employees, is whistle blowing. Whistleblowers are employees who expose their employers for violating certain laws.

The UK government encourages individuals to be able to report the business activities of their employers that are illegal, without being afraid of losing their jobs.

As an employer, therefore, if an employee claims that your business is violating any law, you need to conduct a thorough investigation of the claim, without taking any action against the employee, such as dismissing them. If you proceed with the dismissal of the aforementioned employee, you may have to face a claim for wrongful dismissal.

However, if an employee is seeking protection against dismissal for whistleblowing, he or she needs to make sure that the information they are disclosing must be a “qualifying disclosure”.

These relate to:

  • a criminal offence;
  • a failure to comply with a legal responsibility;
  • a miscarriage of justice;
  • a health and safety issue;
  • damage to the environment;
  • an attempt to cover up any of the above.

Overall, an employee is able to show that they raised a concern because they believed that there was a reasonable belief for doing so. Also that they were making the disclosure in the public interest, therefore you cannot proceed to take any disciplinary action against them as an employer.

However, whistleblowing employees are not protected from dismissal if they only threaten to make a disclosure. They would have to actually make the disclosure to be protected.

Filing a compensation claim

As an employer, you cannot fire an employee because they filed a workers compensation claim. In the United Kingdom, worker’s compensation insurance and worker’s compensation laws exist to protect the employment rights of workers who are injured on the job.

You also need to make sure that your workers are not afraid to file worker compensation claims because they might lose their jobs, otherwise you might be found guilty of thwarting this public policy.


Employment law UK prohibits all employers from unlawfully dismissing an employee without a valid reason. Whilst you can dismiss an employee for gross misconduct, it is advisable that you do so by engaging in consistent procedures for documenting the details of the dismissal. You would also have to take proactive measures to ensure that you document all employee grievances and issues, and take steps to resolve them.

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