The EAT has confirmed, in the case of Gisda v Barratt that, where an employer dismisses an employee by letter, the effective date of dismissal is the date the letter is read by the employee and not when it is received in the post.
In this case Miss Barratt had attended a disciplinary hearing on a Tuesday and was told she could expect to receive a letter concerning possible dismissal a few days later. The letter was sent recorded delivery and arrived at her home on Thursday, but was signed for by someone else, as Miss Barratt was away. She did not return home until the Sunday night and did not ask about the letter or open it until Monday morning. The EAT upheld the tribunal's decision that the effective date of termination was the Monday.
Impact on employers
This case concerned whether the employer's tribunal claim was out of time. However it is also particularly relevant to the dismissal of employees who have close to one year's service or who are absent due to illness. Especially where time is of the essence, employers should consider alternative methods of communicating the dismissal to the employee, such as communicating in person, personal delivery or, in extreme cases, perhaps even text message, to confirm that the letter has arrived.
It should also be noted that there was no suggestion in this case that the employee had gone away deliberately to avoid receiving the letter. There was no obligation on Miss Barratt to ask over the phone about the contents of the letter while she was away. The decision is likely to have been different had the tribunal found that she had been deliberately evading receipt of the letter.