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An HR Glossary for HR Terms

Glossary of Human Resources Management and Employee Benefit Terms

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Summary Dismissal

What Is a Summary Dismissal of Employment?

A summary dismissal of employment (often simply called a summary dismissal or instant dismissal) is the immediate termination of an employee due to their behavior, the basis of which is gross misconduct. With a summary dismissal, the employee can be terminated without notice and without a payment in lieu of notice.

It’s important to outline the possible reasons for summary dismissal in the employee handbook, as well as in employment contracts. If these steps are not taken, an employee could argue that they had no reason to believe their actions would result in termination.

What Are Fair Reasons for Summary Dismissal?

There are many fair and legal reasons for an employee’s summary dismissal. They include, but are not limited to:

  • Attending work while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or other substances

  • Seriously disregarding health and safety regulations

  • Performing acts of discrimination, harassment, or violence against another employee, a client, or a customer

  • Damaging company property

  • Stealing sensitive corporate, client, or customer information or data

  • Starting a competing business

  • Being dishonest or committing theft, bribery, fraud, or sabotage for or against the company

  • Substantial insubordination 

Other behaviors that may constitute a fair reason for summary dismissal include, but are not limited to:

  • Viewing and/or downloading pornography on company property or during company time

  • Disregarding software security protocols

  • Tarnishing the reputation of the employer 

When Is Summary Dismissal Unlawful?

When a summary dismissal is not triggered by gross misconduct, it may be unlawful. Types of behaviors that are unlikely to be considered lawful for summary dismissal include:

  • Regularly showing up to work late

  • Having too many absences

  • Not taking care of personal hygiene needs

  • Having a distracting personal appearance

  • Performing substandard work

There are a couple of risks to issuing a summary dismissal. They are:

  1. Data security issues for both the employer and the dismissed employee

  2. An unfair or wrongful dismissal claim against the employer

What Are the Grounds for Instant Dismissal?

Instant dismissal is just another term for summary dismissal or summary dismissal of employment. Therefore, the same gross misconduct criteria mentioned above apply. 

What Are the Procedures for a Summary Dismissal?

While firing someone “on the spot” is often depicted in movies and TV shows, a summary dismissal isn’t quite so instant. There are procedures for conducting a summary dismissal that should be followed in order to make it fair. 

Here are the steps for proceeding with a summary dismissal:

  1. State your intention to issue a summary dismissal to a specific employee.

  2. Gather evidence of gross misconduct.

  3. Get statements from any witnesses.

  4. Ask the employee to attend a disciplinary hearing. Be sure an HR rep and/or union official is also present.

  5. Allow the employee to give a rebuttal.

  6. Make a final decision on whether or not the employee should be immediately terminated.

  7. Prepare and give a formal letter of termination that confirms the summary dismissal. It should include the reason for the termination, prior warnings and disciplinary actions (if any), the legal basis of gross misconduct, the termination date, and the right to appeal.

What Are the Different Types of Dismissal?

We already went over summary or instant dismissal, but there are a few different types of dismissal. Here’s a quick primer:

  • Fair dismissal: Reasons can relate to redundancy, qualifications, capability, or conduct.

  • Unfair dismissal: When a fair reason for being dismissed has not been given, especially if there have been no prior warnings or disciplinary actions against the employee.

  • Constructive dismissal: If an employee was not officially dismissed but felt “pushed out” by their employer. Examples include being bullied or harassed, not being given agreed-upon hours, or a discontinuation of pay.

  • Wrongful dismissal: This is when the employer breaches the employee contract terms in the time leading up to dismissal.

  • Voluntary redundancy: This happens when an employee volunteers to be dismissed based on redundancy. This can save employees from waiting to find out if they are to be downsized.

What Is the Difference Between Dismissal and Summary Dismissal?

The difference between dismissal and summary dismissal is that a dismissal gives statutory minimum notice (one week for each year of employment, up to twelve) to an employee. Dismissal also calls for an employer to provide payment in lieu of a notice. 

A summary dismissal doesn’t have these caveats.