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Myths of the workplace: Employees can be sacked without notice or warning

'You're fired!' says Lord Sugar, sending another 'apprentice' packing, no discussions, no appeals. It all seems so easy, but then it is a kind of fiction. Can employees really be sacked out of hand like that or is it just a myth of the workplace?

It depends on the situation, employment status and whether a minimum qualification period has been reached. To claim unfair dismissal as an employee, you must have worked for two years if you started work on or after 6 April 2012 and one year if you started before this date.

That said, all employees win basic rights from the beginning of their employment, including the right not to be dismissed on grounds that are classed 'automatically unfair'. This would include dismissal because of family-related reasons (such as pregnancy and parental leave), union representation, age, sex, religion, belief, race, sexual orientation and so on.

'Gross misconduct' - seriously bad behaviour, such as violence, theft, fraud, and incapacity due to drugs or alcohol - can warrant a 'summary dismissal', and many take that literally to mean an instant sacking without notice.

It may be true that some matters are so serious that they breach contract and don't require notice to be given. But employers must still follow a fair and consistent disciplinary procedure and show that they have adhered to the  Acas Code of Practice 1 - Disciplinary and grievance procedures - as for any matter of discipline.

They'd need to tell the employee of the allegations, investigate and establish the facts, give the employee an opportunity to respond and then to appeal. Without due process, the dismissal is likely to be regarded as unfair, or wrongful if it's in breach of contractual terms.

Employees - including those on a probationary period - are entitled to statutory notice of one week if they've been in continuous employment for one month up to two years. After that, it's two weeks' notice rising to a maximum of twelve weeks for each further complete year of continuous employment.

Acas provides impartial advice and guidance for anyone facing Discipline issues and for employers to stay on the right side of the law when Dismissing employees. Acas also provides training on Discipline and grievance and Human resources management for beginners.

Visit the Acas Training and Business Solutions area for more information.

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