Fair reasons for dismissal

If your employer dismisses you they must have a fair reason for their action, for example because of your conduct at work. Find out more about fair reasons for dismissal, and your employment rights should you be dismissed.

Your conduct

If your employer has dismissed you because of your conduct, it usually means you have broken one or more of the terms of your employment. For example:

  • continually missing work
  • poor discipline
  • drug or alcohol abuse
  • theft or dishonesty

Your employer should follow a fair disciplinary procedure before dismissing you for misconduct.

Your ability to do your job

If your employer has dismissed you for your capability it may mean that you aren't performing to the required standard or that you can't do your job properly. For example:

  • you haven't been able to keep up with technological changes to your job
  • you can't get along with your colleagues
  • long-term or persistent illness makes it impossible for you to do your job

Your employer should make sure you are given adequate training to do your job. If you are performing poorly, you should usually be warned that your work isn't satisfactory and be given a chance to improve before any action is taken.


If you are persistently off sick, or on long-term sick, your employer should normally look at any alternatives before deciding to dismiss you. For example, they might have to consider whether the job itself is making you sick and needs to be changed.

You can still be dismissed if you are off sick.

Your employer would normally be expected to allow a reasonable amount of time for you to recover from your illness. The actual amount will depend on things like:

  • how long it will take you to recover
  • how certain it is that you will recover (with some illnesses, like broken bones, it is clear how long it will take but with something like stress it can be uncertain)
  • how easy it is to get cover for your job
  • whether your job can be kept open

If you have a disability (which may include long-term illness), your employer has a legal duty to try to find a way round the problem. They must make 'reasonable adjustments' to how and/or where you work. Dismissal because of a disability may be unlawful discrimination.


Redundancy is dismissal from your job, caused by your employer needing to reduce the workforce. Reasons could include:

  • new technology or a new system has made your job unnecessary
  • the job you were hired for no longer exists
  • the need to cut costs means staff numbers must be reduced
  • the business is closing down or moving

If you are being made redundant then your employer has several responsibilities towards you to make sure you are treated fairly.

A statutory restriction

Your employer can dismiss you if continuing to employ you would break the law, for example, if you are a driver and you lose your driving licence. Your employer would be expected to try and find other suitable work for you before choosing to dismiss you.

Some other substantial reason

'Some other substantial reason' applies to a situation where your employer has an overwhelming reason why you must be dismissed. They would be expected to look at any alternatives before choosing to dismiss you. Reasons that have previously fallen into this category include:

  • imprisonment
  • an unresolvable personality clash between you and a co-worker
  • if the business moves to another location, or if it's taken over, and it isn't possible to employ you because of economic, technical or organisational reasons
  • unreasonably refusing to accept a company reorganisation that changes your employment terms

You can only be dismissed because of your age if this can be objectively justified. Such cases of compulsory retirement are likely to be considered by Industrial Tribunals under the 'some other substantial reason' heading.

Where you can get help

The Labour Relations Agency offers free, confidential and impartial advice on all employment rights issues.

Advice NI offers free and impartial advice.

If you are a member of a trade union, you can get help, advice and support from them.

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