When is written notice of termination of employment effective?

Supreme Court

In Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust v Haywood, the Supreme Court looked at when a written notice of dismissal delivered by post is effective.

Background

On 20th April, after a period of consultation, Mrs Haywood’s employer wrote to her, stating her employment was being terminated due to redundancy.

The letter, which was sent by recorded delivery, informed Mrs Haywood she was being served with 12 weeks’ notice, ending on 15th July.

When the letter arrived at her home, Mrs Haywood was away on holiday. Therefore, the letter could not be delivered, and was taken back to the Post Office.

The letter was collected by a relative on 26th April. Mrs Haywood read the letter when she returned from holiday, on 27th April.

Mrs Haywood argued her notice period ran from 27th April, the date she read the letter, not from 20th April, when the letter was posted. This made a very important difference, because if the 12-week notice period started on 27th April, Mrs Haywood would turn 50 years old before her notice period ended, meaning that she was entitled to an enhanced pension on termination of her employment.  

What did the Court decide?

The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which decided that a written notice of dismissal sent by post runs from when the employee has read it or had a reasonable opportunity of doing so.

In Mrs Haywood’s case, the first reasonable opportunity she had to read the letter was when she returned from holiday, on 27th April. This meant that her notice period did not expire, and her employment did not actually end, until after her 50th birthday, so she was entitled to an enhanced pension.

What does this mean for employers?

This case highlights the importance of making sure notice of dismissal is communicated effectively.

It does not mean that an employee is simply going to be able to extend their dismissal date by deliberately ignoring a letter from their employer which contains “bad news”. Had Mrs Haywood been at home when the letter arrived, she would have had a “reasonable opportunity” to read it, and her claim would not have succeeded.

In a dismissal situation, employers should protect their position by:

  • Informing the employee of the decision in person or by telephone first, and then following it up in writing. 

In Mrs Haywood’s case, her employer knew about her holiday dates, as she had told then during her redundancy consultation meetings. The employer should have been alive to this when issuing notice of termination.

  • Sending the letter by email as well as post and putting a “delivery receipt” and “read receipt” on the email.
  • Checking that a letter sent by recorded delivery has actually been delivered to the addressee.

Employers may also wish to include express provisions in employees’ contracts of employment specifying when notice is deemed to be received and effective.

Please get in touch with our Employment team if you have any questions about how this might impact your business.