The Court of Appeal ruled in Newcastle upon Tyne NHS Foundation Trust v Haywood 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.
Ms Haywood was entitled to 12 weeks’ notice of termination, however her contract did not say when notice was deemed to have been served. After being put at risk of redundancy on 13 April 2011, Ms Haywood told the Trust that she would be entitled to a NHS pension of around £200,000 if she was made redundant after her 50th birthday (the 20 July 2011). She then went on holiday and, whilst she was away, the Trust sent her a letter on 20 April (by recorded delivery to her home and her husband’s email address) proposing to terminate her employment on 15 July, five days before her 50th birthday. However, she did not see the letter until she returned on 27 April.
Ms Haywood argued that the effective date of termination was 20 July, i.e. 12 weeks from 27 April (the day she opened the letter) and therefore after her 50th birthday. The Court of Appeal agreed and upheld her appeal. Whilst the Judges gave different reasons, the majority decided that notice was given on the date that Ms Haywood actually received the letter.
The decision is in line with the law on unfair dismissal which says that the date of termination (for the purposes of bringing a claim) is the date the dismissal is communicated. The case serves as a reminder to employers to ensure that their contracts set out how notice is to be given and when notice takes effect (particularly if there is an important deadline to be met).