The Supreme Court has confirmed, in the case of Gisda Cyf v Barratt, that the effective date of termination (EDT) of Mrs Barratt's employment was the date on which she actually read her dismissal letter and not the date, four days earlier, on which it was delivered.
Mrs Barratt, who was suspended from work, attended a disciplinary hearing on Tuesday 28 November at which she was advised by her employer, Gisda Cyf, that a letter concerning her possible dismissal would be sent to her home on Thursday 30 November. She then visited her sister who had just had a baby and did not return until the Sunday evening. She phoned home during this time but did not ask about the letter which had arrived by recorded delivery on the Thursday and been signed for in her absence. Mrs Barratt read the dismissal letter on the Monday.
The Supreme Court has now confirmed that the EDT was the date that the employee opened the letter and read of her summary dismissal or had a reasonable opportunity of discovering its contents and not the date when the letter was written, posted or delivered. News of dismissal is something that a person may wish to take time to consider in private. Mrs Barratt was not criticised for failing to ask someone else to read the letter to her over the phone.
Termination of employment is an important event and it would be unfair for a timescale to begin to run, for example in relation to any unfair dismissal complaint, prior to an employee being aware of their dismissal. If, as in the case of a commercial contract, knowledge could be assumed, then certain timescales could expire before an employee was in fact aware of the termination. Such an interpretation could not be correct, as it would frustrate the purpose of legislation designed to protect employees.
Impact on employers
- If it is not possible to inform the employee in person of their dismissal and hand over a dismissal letter at the dismissal meeting, employers should look at other ways of alerting the employee to the fact that an important communication has been sent to them.
- For example, the employer could phone, text or email the employee to tell them that they have been sent an important letter.
- In extreme cases, the employer may actually effect the dismissal by text message or email to the employee's private email address (and may follow this up with a letter of confirmation).
- Sending a dismissal letter by recorded delivery will not in itself be sufficient to provide certainty of the termination date, even where the letter is signed for.