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Supreme Court: Dismissal by Letter is Effective when employee reads it

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The Supreme Court has, this morning, handed down its judgment in Gisada Syf v Barratt, dismissing the appeal from the Court of Appeal's decision.

Barratt dismissed Mrs Syf in a letter, delivered by recorded delivery and signed for by her son, on 30th November 2006. She was expecting the decision letter to arrive, but had to be away for a few days as her sister was giving birth. She did not open the letter, and learn about the decision until 4th December. She presented an unfair dismissal claim on 2nd March. If the effective date of termination was 30th November, her unfair dismissal claim was out of time. If it was 4th December, her unfair dismissal claim was presented within time.

The Supreme Court held that the effective date of termination was 4th December, ie when she actually read the letter. It held that she should not be criticised for wanting the letter to remain at home unopened, instead of asking her son to read to her, as its contents were private. As she neither knew of the decision until 4th December, nor had deliberately failed to open the letter or gone away to avoid reading it, then the effective date of termination would be the date she actually learned of the decision to dismiss. The Supreme Court stated that, on policy grounds, it was desirable to interpret the time limit legislation in a way favourable to the employee, and that strict contractual laws concerning termination of contracts should not displace the statutory framework.

Accordingly Mrs Syf's claim was presented within time.