Brain Food: Workplace Rights - Dissed and Dismissed

Sacked employees can pursue two main types of claim. First, they can say the dismissal breached their employment contract (known as 'wrongful' dismissal). Second, if they have at least a year's service, they can bring a statutory claim for 'unfair' dismissal on the basis that their employer acted unreasonably. It is long established that wrongfully dismissed claimants can recover only specific financial losses such as loss of earnings. They can't get damages for injury to feelings, distress, humiliation or even psychiatric injury caused by their treatment. For more than 30 years, tribunals and courts applied the same approach in unfair dismissal cases.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

But the Court of Appeal has now decided that tribunals can compensate employees for 'real injury to self-respect' arising from the way in which they were sacked. This meant the applicant in the case, Christopher Dunnachie, was entitled to compensation for the despair and illness he suffered as a result of a campaign of bullying by his line manager, which led to him losing his job with Hull city council. The ruling will inevitably lead to dismissed employees seeking higher awards - although with an appeal to the House of Lords in the offing, this won't be the last word.

Michael Burd and James Davies, Lewis Silkin solicitors, e-mail:

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