The Court of Appeal has recently confirmed that an employer is not entitled to retract a written notice of dismissal, even though it was sent because of a misunderstanding. The mistake happened when the claimant’s line manager thought she had agreed to change her employment status from employed to self-employed, when in fact she had only agreed to consider such a step.

Her line manager therefore jumped the gun in sending her a notice of dismissal. But the fact that the employee knew, or suspected, that there had been a misunderstanding did not prevent her from treating the letter at face value. The actual decision in this case – which will not come as a surprise to most employment experts – is probably less interesting than its review of cases where an exception to the general rule has been made, and express words of termination disregarded. This applies when the mind of the person giving the notice is not “in tune with his words”, typically when words of resignation are said in the heat of the moment. It does not operate in a situation where a resignation or dismissal was truly meant at the time, but later regretted.

This case is a useful lesson to employers embarking on sensitive discussions with employees about their future. The moral is to make sure there is an agreed note of the meeting before acting, to avoid misunderstandings later