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Unfair dismissal and expiry of fixed term contracts

The Employment Appeal Tribunal in the case of Royal Surrey County NHS Foundation Trust v Drzymala has considered unfair dismissal in relation to the expiry of a fixed term contract.

Background

The Claimant was employed as a locum doctor on a series of fixed term contracts by Royal Surrey County NHS Foundation Trust (“the Trust”). When a permanent vacancy arose, the Claimant applied for the position and was interviewed but was unsuccessful in securing the role. The Claimant was subsequently given notice that her fixed term contract would not be renewed. The Trust did not give the Claimant a right to appeal and there was no mention of any alternative employment that may have been available.

The Claimant lodged a grievance about her dismissal and was eventually allowed an appeal. However, her appeal was not upheld.

The Claimant brought a claim for unfair dismissal to the Employment Tribunal.

Decision

The Employment Tribunal found that the Claimant’s dismissal was unfair.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (“EAT”) rejected the Trust’s appeal. The normal rules in relation to unfair dismissal apply to non-renewal of a fixed term contract and the EAT found that the tribunal had been right to consider that the Claimant had been poorly treated by the Trust when it failed to offer a timely appeal or discuss alternative roles.

Comment

Non-renewal of a fixed term contract can be a fair reason for dismissal (i.e. some other substantial reason) but as this case highlights, it is important that any dismissal on expiry of a fixed term is also procedurally fair.

To avoid procedural unfairness, the usual steps should be taken before the contract comes to an end including; informing the employee in writing of the expiry date, arranging a meeting to discuss the expiry of the contract and informing the employee of their right to be accompanied, sending a list of vacancies to the employee and giving a right to appeal against the decision.

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