In the UK, an employee’s notice rights are governed primarily by the terms of the employment contract but are also subject to the statutory right to a minimum period of notice dependent on length of service.
Notice will usually be required to terminate the employment contract lawfully. Exceptions to this, where there are lawful grounds for termination without notice, are explained further below.
Contractual right to notice
As a general rule, the period of notice to which an employee is entitled on termination of employment is expressly set out in the terms of the employment contract. As long as this is at least equivalent to the statutory minimum period of notice (see below), this will apply.
In the absence of a written contract or an express term governing notice, a reasonable period of notice will be implied. The courts have established that this would represent the notice period which would usually apply to an employee in a similar role and of similar status to the employee. By way of example, an employee in a senior position would generally be entitled to at least three months’ notice on termination of employment.
Statutory minimum period of notice
Where an employee has been employed for one month or more, employment legislation in the UK imposes an obligation on the employer to give a minimum period of notice on termination of employment. The statutory minimum notice period is as follows:
- Where the employee has been employed for between one month and two years, he is entitled to one week’s notice of termination
- Where the employee has been employed for at least two years, he is entitled to one week’s notice for each complete year of employment, up to a maximum notice period of 12 weeks.
If the contractual notice period is greater than the statutory minimum, the greater contractual notice period will apply.
Lawful grounds for termination without notice
In certain circumstances, the employer may be entitled to terminate the employment without notice. This will be the case where there is an express term in the contract governing this, such as a clause which allows the employment to make a “payment in lieu of notice”. The payment will usually be equivalent to the salary and value of other benefits which the employee would have received during the contractual notice period.
In addition, no notice of termination is necessary where the contract is expressed to be for a fixed term, expiring automatically at the end of the term.
The employer may also terminate the contract without notice where the employee commits a repudiatory breach of the contract, for example, where the employee has committed an act of gross misconduct, such as fraud.
Where an employer dismisses an employee without giving proper notice, the employee may bring a claim of wrongful dismissal. The damages payable would be the equivalent of his salary and the value of any other benefits which he would have received during the notice period.