Gisda Cyf v Barratt 
Can you be dismissed without your knowledge? This was the issue confronting the Supreme Court in Gisda Cyf v Barratt  UKSC 41. The employee was dismissed summarily for inappropriate behaviour at a private party (tantalisingly unspecified). A disciplinary meeting was held and the decision deferred. The employer notified the employee by letter that she had been summarily dismissed. The date was important because the time limit for bringing an unfair dismissal claim runs from “the effective date of termination”. This could have been the date the letter was written and posted, the date it was delivered or the date it was opened and read. The significance was that if it had been any time but when it was opened and read the unfair dismissal claim was presented out of time.
What had happened was that the letter was expected on a Thursday. The employee knew it was coming and it was sent by recorded delivery on Wednesday. The letter was delivered on Thursday but the employee was away. She had travelled to London to visit her sister who had just had a baby. She returned home late on the Sunday and made no enquiry about post. It was only on the Monday she asked about the post and her boyfriend’s son produced it from “among his homework papers,” and the letter was then read.
The employer argued at one stage that the dismissal was when the letter was written and posted, as that was when the conduct was accepted as repudiating the contract. At a later stage they said that it was when the employee had had a reasonable opportunity to read the letter. The decision went in favour of the employee. The Supreme Court was firmly of the view that what was required was actual knowledge and not deemed or constructive knowledge which might have been applicable had this been a commercial contract.
The Court might have decided differently had it been held that the employee had been away deliberately to avoid receiving the letter. No such finding was made. The court was also influenced by the fact that dismissal is a momentous event for the employee and the period to bring claims is relatively short.
So if you are an employer and you need to be certain that an employee is aware of dismissal the best advice is to hold a face to face interview and avoid any doubt.
First published in The Grapevine Magazine
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