Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust v Haywood (Supreme Court) 

The Supreme Court has held that where an employment contract is silent on the issue, notice of termination sent by post will be deemed to be received and begin running only once it has come to the attention of the relevant employee and they have either read it or had a reasonable opportunity to do so.  

In this case, the employee was entitled to significantly enhanced pension benefits if her employment terminated on or after her 50th birthday, on 20 July 2011. Following a short redundancy procedure, her employer sent her a letter of termination on 12 weeks’ notice on 20 April, by recorded delivery. However, she was away on holiday and did not read the letter until her return on 27 April. She argued that notice was effective as of this later date which, taking her full notice period into account, meant that her termination date fell on her 50th birthday. Her employer considered notice to have been issued on 21 July, when delivery was first attempted, which meant she was not entitled to enhanced pension benefits. The relevant employment contract did not contain deemed service provisions.

The High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court (by a majority) all agreed with the employee. In the absence of a express contractual provision to the contrary, where an employee is dismissed on written notice posted to their home address, the notice period begins to run once the letter comes to their attention and they have either read it or had a reasonable opportunity to do so. The dates on which the letter would have been delivered in the ordinary course of post, or was actually delivered, are irrelevant. On an extensive review of case law, the Court was satisfied that effective notice must generally ‘come to the mind’ of the addressee, or someone authorised to accept receipt, unless an employer has detailed deemed receipt provisions within employment documentation which set out an alternative position.

In light of this case, employers should review employment contracts to ensure they address permissible methods of giving notice and the timeframes in which each will be deemed to become effective. In addition, employers should take care when citing termination dates in their termination letters since stating an inaccurate (early) date of termination would be a technical breach of contract. To avoid ambiguity further, by hand delivery should be preferred wherever possible.