Time limits: Court of Appeal highlights importance of clear dismissal letters
The Court of Appeal allowed a severely dyslexic claimant to proceed with his claim brought out of time as the dismissal letter was ambiguous (Lowri Beck v Brophy).
Tribunal extends time for bringing claim
Mr Brophy is severely dyslexic and relies on his brother’s help for matters of an official nature.
Following a disciplinary hearing on 21 June 2017, the disciplinary manager called Mr Brophy on 29 June 2017 and informed him he was being dismissed for gross misconduct with immediate effect. He told him he would receive a letter confirming this.
He received the letter (dated 4 July 2017) on 6 July 2017. It 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."
Mr Brophy submitted claims for unfair dismissal and disability discrimination. Based on a dismissal date of 6 July (the date of receipt of the letter) the claims would have been brought in time. The tribunal agreed with his employer that the dismissal took place on 29 June 2017 and the claim was out of time. However, it ruled that time should be extended and Mr Brophy’s claim could proceed. Relevant factors included that Mr Brophy is a vulnerable individual with dyslexia and that the terms of the letter were "unclear and contradictory”. The letter mentioned the 29 June phone conversation but also, as drafted, was “informing” the Claimant of the decision, rather than confirming something he had already been told.
Court of Appeal rejects employer’s appeal
The employer’s appeal to the Employment Appeal Tribunal failed and it appealed to the Court of Appeal.
It argued it was not reasonable for Mr Brophy to read the 4 July letter (received on 6 July) as the letter which dismissed him. The Court of Appeal disagreed. It ruled the terms of the letter were ambiguous, and it was reasonable for him to consider his formal dismissal as taking effect when he received the letter. He was therefore allowed to proceed with his claim even though, on the face of it, it was out of time.
This case is a useful reminder of the importance of drafting a dismissal letter carefully. It is important to set out the termination date clearly. If the employee has already been told of the decision to dismiss and the letter is merely confirming this, this should be made clear and the letter sent out promptly.
While this case concerned a severely dyslexic employee (and this was clearly a key factor in the Court of Appeal’s mind), in similar scenarios, any ambiguity could still be a factor in allowing a case to proceed which (on an initial glance) is out of time.
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