Does wrongful dismissal (NB. I don't mean unfair) apply to workers who are not employees in England & Wales?

My understanding from my lecturer is that it does apply (it came up on a test question which I got wrong for not saying workers could be wrongfully dismissed). However, I find this confusing because our reading material and the lecture slides only reference an employee being wrongfully dismissed.

Example: In Introduction to Business Law (Lucy Jones, 5th Ed) it states: "If an employer dismisses the employee without giving him the notice agreed in his contract, or dismisses him in breach of his contract in any other way, then this would be a wrongful dismissal.”

This paragraph is stated after making clear the difference between 'worker' and 'employee'. Namely that employees are a subset of workers and where employees have a contract of service, workers have a contract for service.

I've also seen other sources which say wrongful dismissal happens when a term of an employment contract is broken. That also adds to the confusion since workers who are not employees don't have an employment contract.

So if workers can be wrongfully dismissed, why do so many materials talk about employees rather than workers?

(Computer Science is my main subject, not law, so I think I'm potentially missing some foundational knowledge that would make all this obvious.)

  • By "workers" do you mean "contractors"? Nov 27, 2021 at 10:59
  • No, example of 'worker' would be a zero-hour contract in England & Wales. Not an employee with all their rights, but more rights than an independent contractor such as getting minimum wage. See gov.uk/employment-status/worker Nov 27, 2021 at 11:03
  • Fair enough. I wouldn't trust textbooks to be as rigorous as you seem to seem to expect. I would not be surprised if the use the terms employee and worker interchangeably. Nov 27, 2021 at 11:07
  • The quote is from the chapter of the book where they explicitly define the differences (type of contract, rights, etc.) between employees, workers and independent contractors. I think it's really confusing that they would say something applies to employees where they mean both, since it makes it difficult to determine exactly which rights apply to who. For example, they say 'Unfair Dismissal' applies to 'employees', and my lecture supports that saying that it only applies to 'employees', not 'workers'. Wish I could get back to a proof... Nov 27, 2021 at 11:11

1 Answer 1


If you end someone's services (or service) without giving the notice required in the contract and without having any legally valid reason to do that then that will be a repudiatory breach of contract.

Whether it is correct to describe that as wrongful dismissal is really a matter of terminology.

Dismissal is a word often associated with ending of employment specifically so that if the person is merely a worker you might be less likely to use the word dismissal. But, that said, the word is used sometimes outside employment. A client may be said to dismiss their barrister and a barrister is not an employee (nor a worker for that matter)

Wrongful is a word used in a variety of contexts usually where the person wronged is in in some kind of subordinate position to the person doing the wrong - e.g. wrongful arrest.

So there isn't really any theoretical reason why you can't describe a worker as having been wrongfully dismissed even if they are not an employee but the phrase wrongful dismissal does tend to be used as a phrase specifically referring to the employment context.

  • 2
    "this is really a matter of terminology": the terms seem to be very precisely defined in UK employment law, so whether "dismissal" applies to workers ought to be well established. That a client may colloquially "dismiss" a barrister does not bear on the meaning of "wrongful dismissal" in employment law any more than does the fact that "worker" and "employee" both have broader meanings out in the wild than they do in UK employment law.
    – phoog
    Nov 27, 2021 at 18:06
  • statutory employment law uses complex and very carefully defined terminology but the OP is asking about a contractual matter, not statutory.
    – Nemo
    Nov 27, 2021 at 21:41
  • I think the OP is asking whether the Employment Rights Act 1996 or some such similar legislation applies to workers as well as employees. Nov 28, 2021 at 10:04
  • 1
    That is right. So at common law it is simply a (repudiatory) breach of contract and whether you give it the label wrongful dismissal when bring a court claim is not of primary importance. The label wrongful dismissal is often used when bringing a claim in an Employment Tribunal to distinguish it from unfair dismissal but an ETs contractual jurisdiction is limited to employees so the ET would not have to deal with a claim that the dismissal of a non-employee worker was wrongful dismissal. So your question is of interest when studying law but matters little in the practice of law.
    – Nemo
    Nov 28, 2021 at 15:25
  • 1
    @wizardMeTimbers I don't see why not. The specific phrase wrongful dismissal generally refers to employment but neither wrongful nor dismissal are limited to employment so I don't see why you can't put them together to describe the wrongful termination of a contract with an independent contractor.
    – Nemo
    Nov 29, 2021 at 13:26

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