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Caution: Non-renewal of fixed term contract was unfair dismissal

01 February 2018 #Termination

The recent case of Royal Surrey County NHS Foundation Trust v Drzymala serves as a reminder to employers that the non-renewal of a fixed term contract will be a dismissal and that the usual principals governing unfair dismissals will apply.  

Ms Drzymala was employed by the Trust on a series of successive 6-month fixed-term contracts.  She applied for a permanent role but was unsuccessful. The Trust suggested there may be future Specialty Doctor roles, however she did not want to discuss this.  Ms Drzymala’s contract terminated in September. The dismissal letter did not mention a right to appeal or any information regarding alternative employment.  Ms Drzymala submitted a formal grievance at which point the Trust confirmed she did indeed have a right to appeal, but that this would not have affected the grievance outcome.

The ET held the dismissal was unfair and were “concerned” because the Trust failed to pursue discussions about the Specialty Doctor role or inform Ms Drzymala’s right to appeal straightaway.  Dismissing the appeal, the EAT re-stated the established principle that the non-renewal of a fixed-term contract constitutes a dismissal and, therefore, the usual requirements for reasonableness and fair procedure still apply. It also highlighted that the fact that compliance with the Fixed-term Employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2002 was no defence to an unfair dismissal claim.

Employers should remember that non-renewal of fixed-term contracts can give rise to unfair dismissal claims. It is crucial that there is a fair reason for the dismissal, a fair process was followed (which includes considering alternative roles) and that the employer acted within the range of reasonable responses in treating that reason as a sufficient reason to dismiss.

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Martha Craven

Martha Craven
Trainee Solicitor

E: MCraven@clarkslegal.com
T: 011 8960 4679
M: 077 4863 8845