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Summary Dismissal

>> HR Glossary/  General HR Terms / Summary Dismissal

What is a summary dismissal?

Summary dismissal occurs when an employee is terminated without notice or pay in lieu of notice (PILON) due to gross misconduct.

In summary dismissal, the employer immediately severs all ties with the employee, bypassing the standard procedures typically involved with terminating an employee, such as notice periods or severance pay.

The reason for this is usually a profound breach of trust or violation of appropriate conduct, where a continued connection with the employee may cause harm to the employer. However, this decision should follow after conducting a thorough investigation.

Otherwise, it’s common to give employees one to two weeks’ notice that they are being terminated or the pay of equal time if you desire the employee to leave immediately.

Understanding the summary dismissal meaning is crucial for both employers and employees, as it highlights the immediate consequences of severe misconduct in the workplace.

What are the reasons for a summary dismissal?

Organizations enact summary dismissal for a number of reasons. Each reason can be seen as a strong example of harmful, illegal, or otherwise extremely unacceptable behavior that warrants immediate termination of employment without the usual formalities or compensation.

Common reasons include:

  • Misappropriating company funds or stealing property
  • Committing fraud or knowingly violating regulations
  • Engaging in acts of harassment or discrimination against colleagues, subordinates, or clients
  • Being under the influence of drugs or alcohol while at work or on call
  • Gross negligence of duties, including safety or prevention of harm
  • Acts of physical violence against people or the environment
  • Violation of specifically prohibited actions outlined in the company handbook
    1. Some examples include absolute sobriety or the commission of certain crimes outside of work
  • Stealing or misusing access to sensitive information
  • Disregarding software security protocols
  • Misconduct over time that results in significant harm.

Reasons for summary dismissal almost always involve harm or the potential to cause harm. This can relate to safety, intoxication, violence, prejudicial actions, or the commission of crimes inside or outside the workplace.

Common reasons for a summary dismissal include stealing company property and harassment.

Summary dismissal is lawful when related to breaking the law (including EEOC and regulatory violations) and when reasonable restrictions are pre-defined in the employee handbook.

Actions outside work can justify fair summary dismissal if linked to employment. In Gosden v Lifeline Project Ltd ET/2802731/09 case, an employee was fairly dismissed for sending an offensive email from his home computer to a friend working for a client of the employer. When forwarded, it was received into the client’s computer network, damaging the employer’s reputation with the client.

Summary dismissal procedures: What HR must do

Summary dismissal should never be executed lightly. To ensure that the decision is fair, HR should go through a specific procedure that concludes that summary dismissal is justified and the only appropriate response to an employee’s misconduct.

If there are security concerns about having the employee active or on-premise during this process, you may suspend them with pay until the company is ready to take action.

Here’s a sample process to follow:

  1. Establish grounds for the dismissal. Most grounds should be defined in the employee handbook.
  2. Conduct a thorough investigation. Gather evidence of gross misconduct, interview witnesses, and assemble a comprehensive report.
  3. Hold a disciplinary hearing.
  4. Consult with legal counsel to make sure that the dismissal is in line with employment laws and regulations.
  5. Document every step of the process to be prepared in case there are any legal repercussions.
  6. Make a final decision.
  7. Allow the employee the right to appeal. You need to provide a route and line of contact for the appeal and have a structured and fair process in place to handle the appeal.
  8. Offer support to the team where the dismissed employee worked to address any concerns and provide guidance on how to move forward.
  9. Review and, if necessary, update company policies and the employee handbook after the process to prevent similar incidents in the future.

In some cases, the evidence may be overwhelming. The process may be expedited in these situations, but should still be respected.

HR tip

There are very important steps to take to prepare for the risks involved in summarily dismissing employees.

  • Clearly define the possible reasons for summary dismissal in the employee handbook to make employees fully aware of choices that can result in being summarily dismissed.
  • Consider working with a third party to conduct a thorough investigation, hearing, and appeal process. That helps protect your company from wrongful termination cases.
  • Attention to detail is critical to ensure that summary dismissal is never subject to ambiguity. The rules must be set, and summary dismissal must only be used when those rules are violated. The commission of crimes may also qualify, even if not defined in the employee handbook ahead of time.


1. When is a summary dismissal unlawful?

Summary dismissal cannot be used for any but the most extreme examples of misconduct. You cannot summarily dismiss an employee for absences, poor hygiene, health problems, or even substandard work.

Putting it in the employee handbook does not necessarily make a summary dismissal lawful. It is also necessary to complete the proper dismissal procedure to ensure it is fair and justified.

Employers must always consider relevant mitigating circumstances before deciding on a summary dismissal of an employee. For example, as evidenced in Wilson v M Racher [1974] IRLR 114, a single instance of using inappropriate language by an otherwise competent employee, especially when intensely provoked by the employer, was deemed insufficient grounds for summary dismissal.

2. What is the difference between summary dismissal and wrongful dismissal?

A summary dismissal follows an approved procedure that confirms gross misconduct. Wrongful dismissal is when an employee is fired for invalid reasons, or dismissed without notice or pay in lieu of notice for reasons other than gross misconduct.

3. What is the difference between dismissal and summary dismissal?

Dismissal is the formal process of ending employment following typical termination processes. This includes notice, severance pay, and unemployment benefits.

Summary dismissal is an extreme and abrupt ending of employment without these courtesies.

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