The Employment Appeal Tribunal has recently handed down its decision in the case of Publicis Consultants v O’Farrell which reminds us all that ambiguity can be costly.
Ms O’Farrell was dismissed by her employer and given four days’ notice. Her contract entitled her to three months’ notice. The letter confirming her dismissal stated that she would be entitled to “an ex-gratia payment equivalent to three months’ salary”. Ms O’Farrell received payment of three months’ salary. She then pursued her employer for payment of a further three months’ salary on the basis that she had received the promised ex-gratia payment, but she had not received her notice pay. Her employer argued that its intention, as stated in the dismissal letter was that she would receive an ex-gratia payment instead of her notice pay and that no further money was due. The Employment Appeal Tribunal agreed with Ms O’Farrell and found that the payment was an ex-gratia payment and that the employer was obliged to pay Ms O’Farrell for her notice period.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal held that where there is ambiguity, this will be construed against the party who drafted the ambiguous wording. This case related to wording in a dismissal letter, but the same principle applies to all correspondence and documentation including policies, procedures, contracts, agreements and so on. This is certainly not a new principle, but it serves as a very useful reminder to us all how important it is to leave no room for ambiguity and how oversights can be costly to a business.
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])