Termination of Employment Contract

April 25th, 2018 by James Goudie KC

The issue in Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust v Haywood (2018) UKSC 22 was when the notice period begins to run, if an employee is dismissed on written notice posted to his home address. If the answer is not specified in the contract of employment, is it (i) when the letter would have been delivered in the ordinary course of post; (ii) when it was in fact delivered to that address; or (iii) when the letter comes to the attention of the employee and he or she has either read it or had a reasonable opportunity to do so?

The respondent, Mrs Haywood, was dismissed by reason of redundancy by her employer, the appellant NHS Trust (“the Trust”). Her contract of employment provided for termination on a minimum period of notice of 12 weeks but not how such notice should be given. On 20 April 2011, the Trust sent a letter giving written notice of termination by recorded delivery to Mrs Haywood’s home address. The Trust was aware that she was away on holiday. The letter was collected from the local sorting office by her father-in-law on 26 April 2011 and left by him in her house that day. She returned from holiday abroad on 27 April 2011 and read the letter.

On the unusual facts of this case, the date on which the 12 week notice period started to run was highly material. If it commenced on 27 April 2011, it expired on 20 July 2011, the date of Mrs Haywood’s 50th birthday, and Mrs Haywood would be entitled to claim a non-actuarially reduced early retirement pension.

The High Court and the Court of Appeal (by a majority) upheld Mrs Haywood’s case that the notice period only commenced on 27 April 2011. The Supreme Court by a majority of three to two has dismissed the Trust’s appeal.

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