When an employer sends notice of dismissal to an employee by post, when does the notice period start to run? In the recent case of Newcastle upon Tyne NHS Foundation Trust v. Haywood, the Court of Appeal considered when notice given in this way may be deemed to have been received in the absence of an express contractual provision.
The claimant, Ms Haywood, was put at risk of redundancy on 13 April 2011. At a consultation meeting, she notified her employer of her imminent annual leave. She went on holiday and, whilst she was away, the decision was made to make her redundant.
The Trust sent a letter on 20 April by recorded delivery to her home and to her husband’s email address giving notice of the termination of her employment on 15 July following 12 weeks’ notice. However, Ms Haywood did not see the letter or email until she returned home from her holiday on 27 April.
In fact the date on which Ms Haywood’s employment came to an end was of significance to both Ms Haywood and the Trust, because she would be entitled to a considerably more generous pension if she was made redundant on or after her 50th birthday on 20 July 2011. Unsurprisingly Ms Haywood argued that the effective date of termination was 20 July, i.e. 12 weeks from 27 April, and not 15 July as asserted by the Trust.
Although Ms Haywood’s employment contract did not specify when notice was deemed to be given, the Trust argued her contract should have terminated 12 weeks after the communications were sent or, alternatively, delivered to her house.
The High Court found in favour of Ms Haywood. The employer appealed.
The question for the Court was whether notice expired on 15 July 2011, as specified in the letter, or whether notice was only served when the content of the letter was actually received by or communicated to Ms Haywood. The Judges considered whether posting or emailing the letter was enough in itself to constitute communication.
The Court of Appeal held that in the absence of an express term in the contract of employment, notice was only effective when Ms Haywood actually read the letter of dismissal rather than on delivery or any deemed date of receipt of the notice. Accordingly, Ms Haywood received notice on 27 April 2011 and her redundancy took effect on her 50th birthday, entitling her to a more generous pension.
The decision is in line with the law on unfair dismissal which says that the date of termination is the date the dismissal is communicated.
In the absence of a relevant provision in the employment contract, employers should take care to communicate notice in person with written notice of termination delivered by hand.
Newcastle Upon Tyne NHS Foundation Trust v Haywood  EWCA Civ 153
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