Employee Must Read the Dismissal Letter for Dismissal to be Effective

Posted in : Supplementary Articles NI on 17 July 2009
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Issues covered:

E&W Court of Appeal rules claim was in time because employee could not have known about dismissal until after the weekend.

Gisda Cyf v Barratt [2009] EWCA

Effective Date of Termination; Dismissal by Letter

It is fairly common (indeed, it could be regarded as best practice to avoid allegations that the employer has made up his/her mind) for employers to send a letter of dismissal to employees rather than to inform them of the decision on the day of the hearing.

This case was one of these. The employer send a recorded delivery letter of dismissal the day after the hearing but the employee was away and did not read the letter until after she returned from a break at her sister's house. The employee waited three months before submitting a claim for unfair dismissal. The question for the Court of Appeal (two and a half years after termination of the contract) was simple:

"Was "the effective date of termination" the date when the dismissal letter was written and posted (29 November 2006), or the date when it was delivered to her home address (30 November 2006), or was it the date when Miss Barratt opened the letter and read of her summary dismissal (4 December 2006)?"

The decision went in favour of the employee, but it was not a unanimous one. It leaves open many questions for employers, such as what happens to employees who (by accident or design) fail to read the letter at all? Should employers phone up to ensure the letter has been received and read? Should employers continue to pay until they have confirmation that the employee has knowledge of the termination of employment? Should they keep the employee on the premises until a decision is reached and hand them a copy of the letter?

The reasoning behind Mummery LJ's conclusions (paras 34-38) is particularly helpful in working out why the Court of Appeal came to the decision it did:

This article is correct at 17/07/2009

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