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Dismissal by Letter is Effective when employee reads it

25 October 2010 #Employment

In the case of Gisda Cyf v Barratt [2010] UKSC 41, the Claimant was sent home following a disciplinary and told to expect a letter concerning possible dismissal. The letter summarily dismissing the Claimant for gross misconduct arrived by recorded delivery on Thursday 30 November. It was signed for by the son of the Claimant`s boyfriend, as she was away looking after her sister, who had just had a baby. The Claimant phoned home while she was away, but did not ask about the arrival of the letter. She had not left instructions for the letter to be opened or read in her absence, so it remained unopened and unread.   She returned home on Sunday night and opened the letter the next day, Monday 4 December. 

When the Claimant brought a claim for unfair dismissal on 2 March 2007, an issue arose as to whether the claim was brought within the three-month time limit.  It was therefore important to ascertain the effective date of termination (EDT) to determine whether the claim was brought in time.  The Claimant`s claim would only be in time if the EDT was the date she opened the letter and read of her dismissal. If the EDT was an earlier date, such as when the letter was written, posted or delivered to her home address, then her claim would be out of time. 

The Supreme Court held that the (EDT) in this case was the date on which the Claimant actually read the letter or had a reasonable opportunity of discovering its contents.  The Claimant`s claim was therefore in time.  The behaviour of the Claimant must therefore be considered when determining whether he/she had a reasonable opportunity to find out what the letter contained although the examination of the reasons for his/her actions should not be a protracted affair. 

Therefore, an employer who summarily dismisses an employee by letter cannot be certain of the EDT.  To achieve greater certainty summary dismissal should be communicated in person.

Clarkslegal, specialist Employment lawyers in London, Reading and throughout the Thames Valley.
For further information about this or any other Employment matter please contact Clarkslegal's employment team by email at by telephone 020 7539 8000 (London office), 0118 958 5321 (Reading office) or by completing the form on this page.
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