End of Contract

The ultimate guide to navigating the termination of a contract in your business

First published on Thursday, Jun 04, 2020

Last updated on Tuesday, May 07, 2024

Contracts play a crucial role in establishing and maintaining professional relationships. However, there may come a time when a contract reaches its end.

And as a business owner, you may find yourself in a situation where you need to terminate an employee's contract. So, it's essential to know how to handle contract terminations in a way that is professional, fair, and compassionate.

It can be a challenging and emotional process, but taking the right steps to make it as smooth and stress-free as possible is key. It’s also important to follow the correct legal process, to avoid wrongful dismissal and unfair dismissal claims.

Whether you are dealing with issues of poor performance, misconduct, or other problems, we are here to help you navigate this challenging situation.

Remember, to handle contract termination with care and respect to maintain a positive work environment for all your employees.

Understanding contract termination

When it comes to the end of a contract, understanding the concept of contract termination is vital.

Contract termination refers to the formal process of legally ending a contractual agreement between parties. It's essential to be aware of the different ways in which a contract can be terminated.

Fulfilling contractual obligations

Regardless of the circumstances leading to the end of a contract, both parties involved must fulfil their contractual obligations. These obligations can vary depending on the nature of the contract and its specific terms.

It's crucial to review the agreement thoroughly and ensure that all obligations are met before the contract end.

Providing adequate end of contract notice

One key aspect of ending a contract is providing proper notice to the other party involved. Notice periods can differ depending on the terms outlined in the contract, and it's essential to adhere to these timelines.

Failing to give adequate notice can result in legal complications and tarnish professional relationships.

If your employee is leaving or has been dismissed, it’s important to know what their notice period is. This will allow you to plan and give your business more control over the situation.

If an employee gives notice, you don’t have to accept their resignation, but you also can’t make them stay if they don’t want to. If you do accept their resignation, it’s best practice to confirm their agreed end date in a written document or letter.

Even if there’s no written contract, your employees must be given reasonable notice when their employment ends, as your employees are entitled to the statutory minimum notice.

Who can terminate a contract?

When it comes to ending a contract of employment, there are multiple ways this could happen. The two most common are when either you the employer are choosing to dismiss your employee, or your employee resigns.

However, it's not impossible for a scenario to occur where both parties agree to end the contract, this is called a mutual agreement.

So, broadly speaking an end of contract occurs when one of the two or more parties—typically two parties—involved who have willingly entered a contract with the other party ends it through an implied contract or a verbal or written agreement.

Employee resignation

From time to time, employees will choose to leave your company, this is known as resignation, also known as quitting, or handing in notice.

There could be many reasons that they have chosen to quit, but there are no legal obligations for them to tell you the reason.

They are obligated by law however to provide notice of one week—unless your employee has only worked for you for less than one month.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t choose to have your employees provide a longer notice period than the statutory minimum, just remember to include this in their employment contract.

You should also set out in their employment contract how they are to inform you of their intention to leave and if you require a verbal or written notice with the date they wish the contract to be terminated.

It’s also best practice to follow a resignation process. This can help you avoid unfair dismissal claims.


When you, the employer chooses to terminate a contract, it's called a dismissal and is normally the same as firing or sacking your employee.

To ensure that the process is fair and reasonable, you should follow a proper procedure before making the decision to dismiss. This involves:

  • Having a fair reason for the dismissal

  • Following a fair and reasonable process in accordance with disciplinary procedures

  • Making a balanced, consistent, and fair decision

It’s important to follow the right dismissal process for many reasons. For example, if an employee files a claim for unfair dismissal and the case reaches an employment tribunal, the procedure you followed will be taken into account.

Fair dismissal

Fair dismissal occurs when an employer terminates an employee's contract based on valid reasons such as misconduct, poor performance, redundancy, or legal restrictions.

To ensure a fair dismissal, you must follow proper procedures, conduct a thorough investigation, provide warnings, and offer your employee an opportunity to improve before resorting to dismissal.

Under The Employment Rights Act 1996, the following are potential fair reasons for dismissal:

  • Conduct: for inappropriate behaviour.

  • Capability: when an employee isn’t able to do their job or doesn't have the right qualifications.

  • Redundancy: when their job is no longer needed.

  • Legality reason: when they cannot legally do their job.

  • Some other substantial reason: for example, a fixed-term contract ending.

Unfair dismissal

Unfair dismissal refers to an employer terminating an employee's contract without valid reasons or failing to follow the appropriate procedures.

Employees have the right to challenge an unfair dismissal through a settlement agreement with their employer or through an employment tribunal, seeking remedies such as reinstatement and compensation.

The most common reasons that your employee would deem their dismissal unfair are:

  • The reason given for dismissal wasn’t true

  • You acted unreasonably

  • The proper procedure wasn’t followed

Read our guide, What is Unfair Dismisal? for more on this topic.

Wrongful termination

Wrongful termination refers to the dismissal of an employee in breach of contract.

This includes termination based on dismissal without proper notice. You must exercise caution and ensure that any termination is lawful and justified.

For more on wrongful termination,read our guide, What is Wrongful Dismissal?

Constructive dismissal

Constructive dismissal occurs when an employee is forced to resign due to a fundamental breach of contract by you, the employer. These breaches may involve a hostile work environment, changes to contractual duties, or failure to address serious concerns affecting your employee's well-being.

It's crucial that you take their concerns seriously, as constructive dismissal cases can lead to significant legal repercussions. To learn more on constuctive dismissal you can read our guide on Constructive Dismissal.

Breach of contract when ending a contract

As mentioned previously, when it comes to terminating contracts, navigating the legal implications is crucial. A breach of contract can have significant consequences, particularly when it involves confidential information and potential claims for damages.

What is a breach of contract?

Breach of contract occurs when one party fails to fulfil the terms and conditions agreed upon in a contract. In the context of employment contracts, this can include various scenarios, such as non-payment of wages, failure to provide agreed benefits, or disclosing confidential information.

It's essential for you to be aware of your legal obligations and the potential consequences of breaching a contract. Read our guide to learn what to do if an employment contract term is broken.

Confidential information and Non-Disclosure Agreements

Confidentiality plays a critical role in many employment contracts, particularly when it comes to protecting sensitive business information. Non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) are commonly used to make sure employees do not disclose confidential information during or after their employment.

Breaching confidentiality obligations can lead to legal action and significant reputational damage for both parties involved.

Claiming damages for breach of contract

When a contract is breached, the injured party may seek damages as a form of compensation. In the case of employment contracts, this can include financial losses resulting from the breach, such as lost wages or missed opportunities.

It's important for you to understand the potential financial implications of breaching a contract and be prepared to pay damages if necessary.

Legal considerations and involvement of legal teams

Navigating breach of contract situations often requires the involvement of legal teams and it's recommended you seek legal advice to understand your rights and obligations.

Legal professionals can guide parties through the process, assess the strength of their claims, and provide representation in potential legal proceedings.

Common law and breach of contract

Common law principles play a significant role in breach of contract cases. Courts will consider factors such as the nature of the contract, the intent of the parties involved, and the extent of the breach when determining the appropriate remedies.

Fixed-term contracts

Fixed-term contracts, as the name suggests, are employment agreements that have a predetermined end date or are tied to the completion of a specific task or project.

They can offer you flexibility in managing your workforce, but it’s important to note that they come with legal obligations. You should clearly define the terms and conditions of the contract, including the fixed duration, in order to avoid any confusion or disputes.

When the end date of a fixed-term contract approaches, you will need to decide whether to renew, extend, or terminate the contract.

You should follow a fair procedure and consider if there is any suitable alternative employment before deciding to dismiss.

In some situations when a fixed-term contract ends the employee may be entitled to statutory redundancy pay as well as notice pay, as it may fall under redundancy. This would happen if there were no longer a requirement for the role.

If the decision is termination, you must adhere to the notice period specified in the contract or as required by law—if there is no contractual notice.

Manage the end of contracts with BrightHR

Understanding the details of contract termination, fulfilling contractual obligations, and providing adequate notice are crucial elements when navigating the end of a contract.

When you approach the end of contracts with diligence and professionalism is essential to maintaining positive business relationships. By adhering to these principles, both parties involved can part ways amicably and pave the way for future collaborations.

It's also important to make sure you are in line with the law because if you neglect your employees’ rights, you could land in hot water. That could lead to costly compensation payments and tribunal hearings.

BrightHR offers expert advice for ending contacts with BrightAdvice our 24/7 legal team for all employment law issues you may have.

To find out more book your free demo and discover confidential and flexible support for you, anytime, anywhere.

Juan Galang

Bright Service Manager Australia New Zealand

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