Notification of dismissal only takes effect when employee reads it

15th October 2010

A recent decision by the Supreme Court has clarified the position in respect of a common misconception about the effective date of termination where a dismissal letter is sent to an employee. The case of Gisda Syf v Barratt, confirms the principle that the effective date of dismissal is the date the employee actually reads the dismissal letter.

The employer, Barratt summarily dismissed Mrs Syf on grounds of gross misconduct. The dismissal was communicated by a letter, sent to her home address by recorded delivery. The letter was delivered and signed for by Mrs Syf’s son on 30 November 2006. However, although she had been expecting the decision, at the time the letter was delivered, Mrs Syf was away for a few days, visiting her sister who had just had a baby. Consequently, the letter was left unopened until her return home and she did not learn of her dismissal until she read the letter on 4 December 2006. Her unfair dismissal claim was subsequently filed with the Employment Tribunal on 2 March 2007. The question of the date the dismissal took effect was therefore vital in relation to deciding whether or not her claim had been presented within the statutory three month time limit for bringing the claim. If the effective date of termination was 30 November 2006, Mrs Syf’s unfair dismissal claim had been presented outside of the time limits but if it was 4 December 2006 (the date she read the letter) her unfair dismissal claim was presented in time.

The Supreme Court held that the effective date of termination was 4 December 2006. The court also held that Mrs Syf should not be criticised for leaving the letter at home, unopened given the circumstances of her absence and the fact that the letter was private. The court took into account the fact that Mrs Syf had not deliberately failed to open the letter or gone away to avoid reading its contents.

In making the decision, the Supreme Court indicated that for policy reasons, the time limit legislation should be interpreted in a way favourable to the employee, and that strict contractual laws concerning termination of contracts should not displace the statutory framework.

It is good practice for an employer who wishes to be certain that an employee is aware of their dismissal to hold a meeting with the individual to inform them of their dismissal in person and then follow this up with written notification of the dismissal, which is delivered to the employee ideally on the same day.

Should you have any queries please contact:
Adele Martins – [email protected]
Susan Thompson – [email protected]
Anthony Thompson – [email protected]
Catherine Yallop – [email protected]
Moji Oyediran – [email protected]

Nicholas Stott – [email protected]