The recent case of Lowri Beck Services Ltd v Patrick Brophy has confirmed that ambiguity in a dismissal letter can be a factor the Tribunal takes into consideration when deciding whether to give a claimant the benefit of an extension of the time limit in which to bring a claim.
A severely dyslexic employee brought claims against his previous employer for unfair dismissal, wrongful dismissal and disability discrimination. After a disciplinary hearing, the employee received a telephone call from his employer on 29 June 2017 informing him of the outcome of the hearing, and that his employment was terminated with immediate effect due to his gross misconduct. He was informed that he would receive a letter confirming this.
The letter received on 6 July said:
“Further to the disciplinary hearing held on Wednesday, 21 June 2017 and our telephone conversation on Thursday, 29 June 2017, I am writing to inform you of my decision…… I have no option but to dismiss you for gross misconduct. This dismissal will be with immediate effect from 29 June 2017.”
The employee misunderstood the date of the termination of his employment, thinking it to be the date that he received the letter. As a result of this, he issued his claims against his former employer after the three-month time limit had technically expired.
The Employment Tribunal held that time should be extended as the Claimant was a vulnerable individual who had dyslexia and because the letter was “unclear” and “contradictory” in relation to the date of the Claimant’s dismissal.
The Court of Appeal agreed and held that the Claimant thought he had raised his claims within the relevant time limit, and that it was reasonable for the Claimant to have considered his dismissal took effect when he received the letter (rather than when he was informed of the outcome of the disciplinary hearing by telephone) due to the fact the letter was ambiguous.
The Court of Appeal therefore found that the tribunal was not wrong in allowing the extension of the time limit.
Why this is important
It is important for Employers to remember that dismissal letters should be drafted in a way which is clear and ensures that there is no ambiguity around the effective date of termination. If the effective date of termination is not clearly set out then the employer could end up in satellite litigation about whether the claim has been brought in time or not, incurring additional costs. In particular, if the decision to dismiss has already been communicated verbally then the written outcome should be sent as confirmation of the decision, rather than notification.
For more information, please contact your usual contact in our Employment and Pensions Team.