Lauren Barratt was employed by Gisda Cyf, a small homelessness charity in Wales. In response to an allegation that she had behaved inappropriately at a private party, Gisda Cyf suspended her and commenced disciplinary proceedings. At the end of the hearing, Barratt was informed she would receive a letter on 30 November 2006 informing her of the outcome. She knew she was at risk of dismissal.
Barratt left her home early on the morning of 30 November to travel to London to visit her sister, who had recently had a baby. A letter from Gisda Cyf, informing her that she had been summarily dismissed for gross misconduct, arrived later that day by recorded delivery and was signed for by her boyfriend's son. Barratt returned home late on the evening of 3 December and read the letter the following morning. Her appeal against her dismissal was unsuccessful, so she brought claims of unfair dismissal and sex discrimination in the Employment Tribunal.
The legal decisions
Gisda Cyf argued that Barratt's claims were out of time because she had brought them more than three months after the effective date of termination, or EDT. In doing so, it relied on the date on which the dismissal letter arrived at her home as the EDT, not on the date on which she read that letter. The tribunal found that Barratt had brought her claims in time. Gisda Cyf appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal, then the Court of Appeal and finally the Supreme Court, but each appeal was unsuccessful.
In October, the Supreme Court held that the EDT is when the employee is informed of the dismissal or has had a reasonable opportunity to discover that they have been dismissed, and that, when considering the latter, the behaviour of the employee should be taken into account. The claims will now return to the Employment Tribunal for a final decision.
Lessons for charities
When a charity wants to be certain a dismissal has taken effect, it should dismiss in person or over the phone. It should then be confirmed in writing as recommended by the guidance to the Acas code on disciplinary and grievances procedures.
- Victoria Willson is a solicitor at Levenes Employment, third sector specialists