The Supreme Court has held that, in the absence of an express term, contractual notice of termination of someone’s employment takes effect when it comes to the employee’s attention and they either read it or have a reasonable opportunity to do so.

notice

The employee’s position, in this case, became redundant in the months approaching her 50th birthday. This was significant as if her employment terminated by reason of redundancy on or after her 50th birthday, she would be entitled to a non-actuarially reduced early retirement pension.

The employer sent a letter to her home address by recorded delivery purporting to terminate her contracts on notice which would end 5 days before her 50th birthday. However, the employee was on holiday at the time. After the postal service was unable to deliver the letter, her father-in-law collected it from the sorting office and took it to her house the day before she was due to return from holiday. She returned from holiday the following day and read the letter.

When did the notice period expire?

The question the Court had to decide was whether the notice period expired before or after her 50th birthday.  She won her case and a further appeal before the matter came before the Supreme Court.

Dismissing the employer’s appeal, the Supreme Court said that when dealing with written notice sent by post, and in the absence of an express contractual term specifying when a notice of termination is effective, the notice starts to run when the letter comes to the attention of the employee and they have either read it or had a reasonable opportunity of doing so.  The Court rejected arguments that the notice would start to run when the letter would have been delivered in the ordinary course of post or when it was in fact delivered to that address.

Case reference: Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust v Haywood