This is an extract of our Wrongful Dismissal document, which we sell as part of our Labour Law Notes collection written by the top tier of Oxford students.
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Wrongful dismissal Law relating to termination of employment Common law Damages for wrongful dismissal compensate the employee for losses sufered as a result of the wrongful termination of the contract of employment by the employer. In principle, the level of compensation payable by these means could be substantial but all depends on the terms of the contract (both express and implied) and on the application of the general rules by which contract damages are calculated. In practice, damages for wrongful dismissal are very rarely substantial, essentially for two reasons: (i) either as a result of express agreement or by way of an implied term, the employer will almost invariably possess the right at common law to terminate the contract simply by giving notice, without needing to have a good reason, or any reason, for doing so (the notice rule). (ii) any damages payable to the employee for the employer's failure to give notice will be limited by the principle of mitigation as well as by the principle that the victim of breach of contract may only claim, by way of compensation, damages for those losses which he can show derive from a clear contractual entitlement, as opposed to a bare or unprotected expectation. Since in most cases the employee is not entitled to remain in employment for longer than the minimum period of notice contained in the contract, damages will be limited to a sum representing net salary for the notice period only, and will not normally include an amount for harm done to reputation or for loss of earning capacity.
= for most employees, the protection ofered by the common law of dismissal is inadequate and why it was felt necessary for the legislature to intervene by introducing the principle of statutory unfair dismissal. The diversity of approaches to be found elsewhere in the common law world suggests that the English law rule of minimal compensation for wrongful dismissal is not immutable. Two relatively recent developments in the English common law indicate that some reassessment of the traditional rule is needed: (i) the courts have granted more extensive damages in cases where employers have failed to observe contractual disciplinary procedures (Gunton, Dietman, Boyo). (ii) the courts have shown themselves to be prepared to grant specifc relief in equity in order to restrain certain breaches of contract by the employer (Powell, Jones v Gwent CC). In both instances, the normal notice rule is efectively undermined: as a result of the court's intervention, the employer can no longer rely on the power of the notice term to dispense with the need for procedural fairness or for adequate substantive grounds for an act of discipline or dismissal.
BUT these new lines of authority are somewhat fragile: they have no received the clear endorsement of the HoL and a number of doctrinal issues concerning the relationship between the notice term and other terms of the contract, and the remedies available to the employee, remain unresolved. It is also doubtul whether these rights and remedies will be available to more than a minority of highstatus employees. Notice and duration Where a contract of employment is silent on the question of termination it will normally be construed as being of an indeterminate duration. If so, a term will normally be implied at common law to make provision for notice. The principal function of this notice rule is to give both sides the option of escaping from the arrangement at low cost. However, the length of notice may be set so as to grant one or both of the parties some degree of warning of, and monetary compensation for, the ending of the relationship. The development of the common law notice rule Either party can terminate the contract by giving the other reasonable notice ( Baxter; Lord Oaksey in McClelland, Lord Millet in Reda - the rule is confned to contracts that contain no provision for determination and does not apply to fxed term contracts). In the absence of an express clause, what was reasonable tended to be determined by one or two rival criteria - the period by which the wage or salary was calculated, and the custom in the relevant trade. An employee whose wage was calculated by the week might, for that reason, be entitled to receive at least a week's notice of termination (Baxter, per Coltman J); otherwise "general usages tacitly annexed to all contracts relating to the business with reference to which they are made, unless the terms of such contracts expressly or impliedly exclude them" (Metzner per Parke B). The courts construed the contracts of hourly-paid industrial workers as terminable by an hour's notice on either side. One efect of this was to reduce the contractual security of the hourly paid worker practically to nothing. Clark v Clark - Elias P (in EAT): although where there is no express term the court must imply an appropriate term from all the circumstances, "an extremely signifcant circumstance will be the parties' own assessment of the appropriate period". This is very likely to be a mater of dispute. Statutory minimum notice periods Minimum periods of notice are now inserted into the contracts of employment of all employees with continuity of employment of at least one month. The relevant legislation is now contained in s86 f of ERA 1996. The employee is entitled, afer one month's continuous employment, to receive a minimum of one week's notice of dismissal. Afer two years this rises to two weeks Goes on rising by one week for each additional year of continuous employment up to a limit of 2 weeks' minimum notice.
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