Blog post

Practical Steps for HR to Ensure Fair Dismissals and Compliance

If the thought of initiating the dismissal process fills you with dread, you’re not alone. A recent study by a leading Irish law firm found almost half of HR professionals find dismissals difficult to navigate. To top it off, Irish employment law with its mishmash of complex overlapping industry regulations, state legislation, and EU directorates can feel like a maze.

So, it’s unsurprising that the same survey found 85% of respondents have low or no confidence in their understanding of fair dismissal practices. It’s no wonder the process is like hiking a mountain track in the dark; a slight misstep either way can land you in trouble and leave you facing an unfair dismissal case.

To understand the ins and outs of the dismissal process, you can read our previous blog post, which outlines the varying definitions and conditions that make dismissals unfair in the eyes of the law. Read on to learn how to avoid the pitfalls and unfair dismissal claims.

 

Preparing for Dismissal

Before you even consider going down the dismissal track, it’s crucial to familiarise yourself with the course. This means gathering all relevant documentation that backs up the decision. For example, if an employee’s standard of work or output has fallen below what’s expected, you’ll need performance reviews or, copies or written feedback from line managers.

Similarly, you’d need to gather attendance records if dismissing an employee for frequent unauthorised absences. Or a list of prior warnings and witness statements if they’ve engaged in unacceptable behaviours like bullying or harassment. Documentation serves as concrete evidence supporting your case for dismissal and shows that you’re not making decisions based on personal bias or whim.

Next, you need to review your company policies and employee contracts. This step is akin to checking the weather before you embark on a hike; you need to know what conditions you’re working with. If a manager insists you dismiss someone for taking time off to volunteer, double-check that it’s not something offered as part of your organisation’s CSR or ESG policy or something pre-approved and written into their employment contract.

Employee Dismissal

Be prepared. Employees with 12 months of service have the right to ask for a written statement following dismissal. This document must give all the reasons why they were dismissed and must be provided within 14 days of their asking. The written statement is what employees and their advocates use to decide whether to make a claim of unfair dismissal, so it’s crucial that you keep a thorough account.

Legal compliance is your safety net. Avoid dismissal on prohibited grounds like race or age, and ensure you have valid reasons for your decision. Adhering to the Unfair Dismissals Act and treating employees on probation or fixed-term contracts fairly is essential in avoiding unfair dismissals.

If in doubt, remember that you’re not alone. Specialist HR and legal advisers are your compass, guiding you in the right direction. They ensure you’re on the right track and that your decision and dismissal process comply with guidelines and relevant laws before you embark on a high-risk path.

 

Establishing Solid Grounds for Dismissal

Now, let’s talk about the reasons for dismissal. They need to be as solid as the ground beneath your feet. Whatever the reason, you need to have clear evidence and reasons that are genuine and well-documented.

Grounds for dismissal usually fall under six categories. We cover each of these grounds in detail in our previous post, but here’s an overview as laid out by the Law Society of Ireland:

1. Incapability – both medical and non-medical lateness or absence

2. Incompetence – not meeting expected standards

3. Underqualified – lying about having or failing to get job-dependent qualifications

4. Redundancy – when the employee’s role is no longer needed by the business

5. In contravention of the law – employing or continuing to employ the person would be illegal.

6. Some other substantial grounds (SOSG) – This umbrella term covers issues that don’t fall under any other grounds. SOSG typically refers to conduct or pressure from stakeholders.

 

Following Fair Procedures for Dismissal

Fair procedures are the path that leads to trust. Notify your employee of disciplinary procedures early on, and if issues arise, start with a verbal warning. It’s like a gentle nudge in the right direction. If the problem persists, a written warning is your next step.

Investigations are your fact-finding missions. They help you gather the evidence needed to make an informed decision. And always keep the employee in the loop. It’s only fair that they know what they’re up against.

Strict employment laws protect Irish employees, so you must carefully dot your i’s and cross your t’s. This starts right back when you first employ someone. Here’s where those company policies and employment contracts we told you to check in the first step come into play.

Terms of dismissal must be established in your employment agreement, which is the offer letter you send when you first hire someone. It should include everything they need to know about your organisation’s disciplinary procedures and dismissal policy. You must provide the employee with this in the first 28 days of their employment.

Employee Dismissal

Most disciplinary processes start with a thorough investigation of any allegations or issues— a finding of facts, if you will. If you find that an employee is in breach of policies and practices, you can issue verbal warnings and follow up with written warnings if their behaviour persists.

Employees are entitled to representation during the disciplinary process. In the majority of cases, employers should give them the opportunity to improve within a reasonable timeframe and provide extra support if needed. For example, if someone is repeatedly off sick with a bad back, put them on light duties or provide equipment to reduce their physical load.

If issues continue, the next step is a final warning highlighting that they risk being dismissed. In some instances, like the breakdown of trust, criminality, wilful negligence, or gross misconduct, it may be appropriate to instantly dismiss an employee. But be careful; if you haven’t followed fair procedures, they will be able to claim unfair dismissal.

Employees who have worked for your company for at least 13 weeks also have the right to a statutory minimum notice period ranging from one to eight weeks, depending on tenure. This can be even longer if stipulated in their employment agreement.

 

Notice of Dismissal

When it’s time to give notice of dismissal, do it in writing and hold a formal meeting. It’s the professional and morally right way to close the door on someone’s employment. We all read the shameful stories of mass firings over Zoom. P&O Ferries, for instance, sparked outrage after telling 786 workers it would be their last day via a two to three-minute video call.

As was the case with P&O, the reputational damage caused to the firm from the universal condemnation they received is incalculable. Let alone the financial implications of having to offer inflated redundancy payments to avoid unfair dismissal claims or compensation packages to those employees who take matters to a tribunal.

 

Next Steps After a Dismissal

Once you’ve given notice and completed all the necessary paperwork, you might want to conduct an exit interview. It’s an opportunity for closure and learning for you and the employee.

You’ll need to finalise any severance agreements and keep detailed records of the entire process—it’s your documentary evidence if questions arise later.

Lastly, it’s helpful to inform employees of their rights with the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) and direct them to the Citizens Information Board (CIB) for further guidance. If they indicate they might want to claim unfair dismissal, you can offer mediation as an alternative. Prepare for adjudication, but hope for a resolution that benefits everyone.

Employee Dismissal

Fair is Fair

When it comes to dismissal, HR is in the unique position of having to act in the interests of both the employer and the employee. You have to make sure that it’s fair to all parties. A fair dismissal process is all about preparation, clear communication, rigorous documentation, fair procedures and legal compliance.

It’s about treating the journey’s end with the same respect as the beginning. By following these steps, you’ll create a fair, transparent, and respectful process, minimising the risk of unfair dismissal cases. Remember, it’s not just about ending an employment relationship. It’s about doing it the right way.

 

For More Information

Download our free HR Dismissal Checklist by clicking the link or visiting our downloads section here.

Read our blog post The Difference Between Fair and Unfair Dismissal, which breaks down the difference between fair and unfair dismissals, and how to navigate this tricky part of the job with care and compliance.

Watch our webinar How to Conduct Effective Dismissals, with Fredericka Sheppard, Managing Director and Co-Founder at Voltedge, who explores the key aspects of dismissal management, offering insights and best practices to help HR professionals traverse this challenging terrain with confidence and integrity.

 

Additional Resources

CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, supports organisations in providing better work and working lives. It offers trusted advice, research, insights and learning.

Website: www.cipd.org
Phone: +353 678 0090

Citizens Information Board (CIB) provides comprehensive information on public services and citizens’ entitlements in Ireland. It gathers information from various government departments and agencies and ensures that you have all the information you need, presented in an easy-to-understand way.

Website: www.citizensinformation.ie
Phone service: +353 21 229 8178

The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), Ireland’s independent statutory body, is responsible for providing guidance on compliance with codes of practice and information on employment.

Website: www.workplacerelations.ie
Phone: 0818 80 80 90

The Law Society of Ireland provides essential information and guides on employment law and what you need to know about engaging a solicitor. Their search directory can help you find a suitable solicitor and check their credentials.

Website: www.lawsociety.ie
Phone: +353 672 4800

Practical Steps for HR to Ensure Fair Dismissals and Compliance was last modified: May 29th, 2024 by Beatriz Araujo

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