In the case of Gisda Cyf v Barratt, the Supreme Court has held that dismissal by letter was effective only when the employee actually read the letter.
Mrs Barratt’s employer sent the letter confirming her dismissal by recorded delivery, and her son took receipt of the letter and signed for it. She was away from her home at the time because her sister was giving birth. Mrs Barratt did not read the letter until five days later when she returned home. The Supreme Court held that the dismissal was effective when she read the letter, not when it was delivered. Mrs Barratt had not purposefully delayed reading the letter nor had she gone away in order to avoid reading it. The letter was marked ‘private’ and so it was not unreasonable for her to want to read it herself. She was not criticised for not wanting someone to read it in her absence.
On a first reading, this decision may raise alarm bells for employers due to the uncertainty that it may cause. After all, how can an employer take charge over when its employee reads a letter? However, it is likely to have limited impact in practice. The Court’s decision appears to be limited in its scope and will only apply to give an employee a ‘reasonable opportunity to discover’ that he or she has been dismissed. When an employee does something deliberately to avoid reading a dismissal letter then termination of that employee’s contract of employment is likely to be outside the scope of this decision.
However, the decision does serve as a useful reminder about the mechanics of terminating employment, in that termination or notice will not be effective until it is actually communicated to the employee.
If you would like to talk through a situation you are dealing with, or if you need advice on any aspect of employment law, please contact any member of the Pure Employment Law team (01243 836840 or [email protected])