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Millions of workers need urgent protection from unfair dismissal

Published 01 February 2021
There are fears that in the coming months more jobs will be lost and one in four workers will not be protected from unfair dismissal.

It is reported that about 7.5 million employees began this year with no protection from unfair dismissal.

Hospitality and retail have been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic. Many workers in those sectors have not been in their jobs long enough to be able to claim unfair dismissal.

Employees can only make a claim for unfair dismissal if they have worked for their employer for two years. (1)

The pandemic has decimated the economy and businesses. Hundreds of thousands of jobs have already been lost and employers have been left counting the cost.

Most recent figures show that the UK unemployment rate rose to five per cent in the three months to November as redundancies hit a record high. 

Figures released by the Office for National Statistics show that the official jobless rate rose 0.6 per cent on the previous quarter – equivalent to 202,000 job losses (2)

People working in industries most affected by the pandemic do not have key protections and are most at risk of being unfairly dismissed, according to research from the Trades Union Congress (TUC) (3)

Findings from the study are:

  • Nearly half (45%) of hospitality staff have not been in their jobs long enough to qualify for unfair dismissal rights.  
  • A third (32%) of people working in the retail, wholesale and vehicle repair sector don’t qualify for unfair dismissal rights. 
  • Over half (56%) of 20-24-year-olds and two-fifths (40%) of 25-29-year-olds do not qualify for unfair dismissal.  
  • Workers aged 25 and under are three times more likely than those over 25 to work in either accommodation and food, or arts, entertainment and recreation – two of the industries hardest hit by the virus. 
  • The picture is also bleak for many BME workers. 1 in 3 (33%) have no protection from unfair dismissal, compared to a quarter (25%) of white workers. 


The TUC says all workers should have unfair dismissal rights from day one in the job. 


The analysis shows that even returning to the previous qualifying period for unfair dismissal of 12 months would benefit 3.6 million workers – including around a million workers in health and social care and the wholesale and retail sectors. 

While it is hoped the vaccination will help to combat the spread of the virus, further job losses appear inevitable.

With many employers facing an unclear and uncertain future there are fears of more redundancies to come.

Although an employee with less than two years’ service will not qualify for statutory redundancy pay (4) an employer should still follow a fair selection process.

Any selection process should be reasonable and use objective criteria that can be checked and it should not discriminate directly or indirectly.

An employee selected for redundancy has the right to appeal against the decision if they believe that it is unfair.

If a worker has been selected for redundancy on automatically unfair grounds for example, age, sex, race, disability or religious belief, it is discriminatory and they can claim unfair dismissal regardless of their length of service.

Business leaders have called on the government to reveal a plan to exit lockdown with retailers still ‘in the dark’ about when they may be allowed to reopen (5)

The Confederation of Business Industry (CBI) is asking for clarity from the government to help businesses prepare by confirming when they can expect to open up again.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he hopes to announce, in the week beginning 22 February, a ‘roadmap’ which will be used to ‘reclaim our lives’ and help to gradually 9reopen the economy in order ‘to get our lives back to as close to normal as possible’ (6)



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For employment law advice or if you are affected or want information and support by any of the issues in this article please give us a call. 0333 772 0611 



(1) Claiming for unfair dismissal  [Internet] [Cited 01.02.2021]

(2) 202,000 job losses. [Internet] [Cited 01.02.2021]

(3) Unfairly dismissed during the pandemic [Internet] [Cited 01.02.2021]

(4) Redundancy Rights [Internet] [Cited 01.02.2021],

(5) Retailers still in the dark to when they maybe able to open. [Internet] [Cited 01.02.2021]

(6) Borris Johnson set to announce a ‘Roadmap’ [Internet] [Cited 01.02.2021]

A reputation built on success

For employment law advice or if you are affected or want information and support by any of the issues in this article please give us a call. 

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