In Gisda Cyf v Barratt [2010] the Supreme Court upheld the EAT’s decision that notification of dismissal sent in a letter by recorded delivery was received by the Claimant when she opened and read the letter, not when it arrived at home.

Ms Barratt had been suspended from work after behaving inappropriately at a private party. A disciplinary hearing had been held and she was aware the outcome might be dismissal. She was told a letter would be sent to her advising her of the outcome. She was then absent from home visiting her sister’s new baby when the dismissal letter arrived and it was signed for by her stepson. When she arrived home a couple of days later she asked whether a letter had arrived. Her stepson produced it and she did not open it until the following morning. In order to present a claim of unfair dismissal, Ms Barratt needed to present her claim within three months of the effective date of termination (EDT) and therefore ascertaining the EDT was crucial. Gisda Cyf argued that Ms Barratt’s claim was out of time and that she had had a reasonable opportunity to discover the contents of the letter.

The Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeal that it was not unreasonable for Ms Barratt to want to read the letter herself rather than ask her stepson to read it over the telephone. The Supreme Court endorsed the decision in Brown v Southall & Knight that where dismissal is communicated by letter, the contract of employment does not terminate until the employee has actually read the letter or has had a reasonable opportunity of reading it. It was not enough to show the employer intended to dismiss or had sent a letter dismissing. If however an employee deliberately refused to open the letter or went away to avoid reading it, he may be debarred from arguing that notice of dismissal had not been given. On the facts in this case it was reasonable for Ms Barratt to have been away from home and not to have asked her stepson to read the contents of the letter to her. In the circimstances her EDT was the date she actually read the letter herself.