Most employers will be aware that an employee does not acquire the protection against unfair dismissal until they have been with the business for at least a year. For employees whose employment starts on or after 6 April 2012 the qualifying period will increase to two years.

On the face of it this is not too much to be concerned about: those of us with enough miles on the clock will recall that the relevant period was two years for most of the 80s and 90s. Indeed the government say that everyone should benefit as businesses will be more willing to take on new employees, in light of the fact that they will be relatively free to dismiss those workers without fear of a claim, within the first two years of the relationship. I say “relatively free” because as always there are exceptions to the rule. Businesses must be aware that thousands of unfair dismissal claims are brought every year by employees who do not have the requisite service. It never hurts to be reminded of the grounds for such claims, so that businesses and employees are alive to the consequences.

Although not an exhaustive list an employee is able to claim unfair dismissal, irrespective of his or her length of service, if they are dismissed on discriminatory grounds (i.e. in relation to their age, sex, race, sexual orientation etc.) because they applied for flexible working, raised health and safety concerns, have done something which falls within the definition of “whistleblowing” or asserted a statutory right.  The assertion of a statutory right can come in many forms and includes asserting the right to receive itemised payslips or a written contract, the right not to suffer unlawful deductions from his or her wages, or the right to be accompanied in disciplinary and grievance proceedings. So an apparently innocuous situation can escalate if an employee without the necessary service feels that their dismissal is linked to one of the above grounds. In fact critics of the new two year period say that we will see an increase in these types of claims as they may be only the option available to disgruntled employees whose service is short.

The moral of the tale is to think twice before dismissing an employee who has been with you for less than a year, or from next month, two years.  It is best practice to undertake proper disciplinary and grievance procedures, to obtain a clear understanding of the situation before deciding whether or not to dismiss.