Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Law takes notice of workers’ rights

Legislation spells out the rights of employees facing dismissal

Most employees have a statutory right to a period of notice if dismissed. Many employees will have additional rights to notice under their contract of employment.

The statutory minimum period of notice is:

  • One week for people who have worked for their employer for one month but less than two years; or
  • Two weeks if the employee has worked for their employer for two whole years; and
  • One additional week for each further whole year's employment at the date the notice period expires, up to a maximum of twelve weeks' notice in total.

If an employee actually works their normal working hours during the notice period, they are entitled to be paid their normal pay.

If the employer has dismissed an employee without the correct notice, the employer may give them money to compensate for this. This is known as pay in lieu of notice.

Provided the amount of pay in lieu is correct and the employer has the contractual right to make a payment in lieu of notice, the employee cannot force their employer to let them work their notice instead of taking pay in lieu.

The amount of pay in lieu of notice an employee is entitled to will depend on how much notice they are entitled to. An employee should be given pay in lieu at the rate of their normal wages.

For example, if an employee is entitled to four weeks' notice, but is only given one, they will be entitled to three weeks' pay in lieu of notice. They may be entitled to more than this, depending on what their contract says.

If the employer refuses to award pay in lieu of notice, or does not pay the right amount, this is wrongful dismissal (unless the employee has been dismissed because of gross misconduct) and the employee can take the employer to court or go to an industrial tribunal for breach of contract.

An employee may need to raise a written grievance with their employer before making a breach of contract claim to a tribunal. Otherwise, any compensation they are awarded by the tribunal may be reduced.

If an employer is insolvent and has gone into liquidation, the employee can claim any statutory pay in lieu of notice from the Department for Employment and Learning (Redundancy Payments Service).

There are limits on how much they will be able to claim and they can claim this in addition to any redundancy payment which they would be entitled to. From October 1, 2006, an employer wishing to end an employee's contract on the grounds of retirement must give at least six months' (and not more than 12 months') notice of the employee's intended retirement date and of the employee's right to request to stay on.

A fixed-term contract with an expiry date terminates automatically on the date it expires. This means that no notice needs to be given if the contract is to end on this date.

If the contract has an expiry date and contains a clause which means that it can be terminated before the expiry date, then the usual rules about notice apply to any early termination of the contract. A task contract runs for the length of time it takes to complete a particular task and so has no expiry date.

From October 1, 2002 in cases in which a task contract which is expected to last for three months or less is ended early — before the task is complete — the employee is entitled to one week's notice, provided they have worked for their employer for one month.

  • Further information on your notice entitlements is available from your local CAB or from the Labour Relations Agency on (028) 9032-1442.

Siobhan Harding is an Information and Policy Officer with Citizens Advice