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Can an employee be dismissed instantly for bad behaviour?

What kind of situations might warrant a summary dismissal and can they ever be serious enough to bypass normal disciplinary procedures?

Generally, employers understand the importance of setting out clear rules and standards of conduct in the workplace, backed up by a fair disciplinary procedure.

In most circumstances, the disciplinary process involves establishing the facts, informing the employee, holding a disciplinary meeting, and then taking action while providing an opportunity for the employee to appeal.

But are there any disciplinary situations so serious that this process can be bypassed with instant dismissal?

Instant dismissal, more accurately called summary dismissal or dismissal without notice, should only be considered in cases involving acts of 'gross misconduct'. Even then, fair disciplinary procedures must be followed, so dismissal is hardly ever literally 'instant'.

What an organisation regards as acts of gross misconduct should be clear from its disciplinary rules. Typically, they might include such things as theft or fraud, physical violence, gross negligence, incapacity due to alcohol or illegal drugs, and serious insubordination.

Generally speaking, an act of gross misconduct is considered to be serious enough to overturn the contract between employer and employee, so justifying summary dismissal.

However, even in these cases it's still vital that the employer follows a fair procedure as for any disciplinary offence. Failing to establish the facts before taking action and holding a meeting with the employee, and denying the employee the right to appeal is highly likely to be considered unfair at an employment tribunal and lead to a claim against the employer.

It may not be appropriate for the employee to be at work while facts are established, so a short period of suspension on full pay may be helpful. But a suspension should only be imposed after careful consideration. It should be made clear to the employee that it is not in itself a disciplinary action and does not involve any prejudgement.

Acas has written the statutory Discipline and grievance - Acas Code of Practice, which provides practical guidance to employers and employees and sets out the principles for handling disciplinary and grievance situations in the workplace. More comprehensive advice and guidance on dealing with disciplinary situations is contained in the Acas booklet image icon Discipline and grievances at work:The Acas guide [14kb].

Acas also offers training sessions and events on discipline and grievance.

Visit the Acas Training Courses, Workshops and Projects area for more information.

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