Resignation Effective When Letter Opened, Not When Read by Intended Recipient

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Posted on 12 Apr 2012

Where an employee resigned with immediate effect by letter to her employer, the termination took effect on the date the letter was opened and date-stamped by the employer and not the date on which it was read by the intended recipient.

In Horwood v Lincolnshire County Council, H wrote to her employer by letter dated 27 January resigning with immediate effect.  The letter was sent on 28 January by special delivery.  It arrived on 29 January and was opened and date-stamped on that date by administrative staff.  The employer responded by letter dated 2 February informing her that her resignation took effect from 2 February.  H presented a constructive unfair dismissal claim to the employment tribunal on 29 April and the employer argued that it was out of time.

The employment tribunal and EAT agreed.  The effective date of termination was 29 January and the claim therefore needed to be presented to the tribunal on or before 28 April in order to be in time.  Once the resignation letter had been opened and date-stamped, H’s communication of her decision to resign was effective.  The fact that the letter had not been read by its intended recipient was irrelevant, as was the fact that the administrative staff who opened the letter were not employed directly by the employer.  As employees of the company contracted by the employer to provide administration services, they were acting as agents of the employer and were authorised to open the post.  The EAT also upheld the tribunal’s decision not to extend time as it had been reasonably practicable for the claim to be presented in time.

Where an employee is summarily dismissed by letter, the termination needs to be communicated personally and only takes effect when the employee has actually read the letter or had a reasonable opportunity to discover its contents.  However, the position is different where the employee resigns with immediate effect.  In that case the communication is effective once the letter has been opened and the resignation takes effect at that point.  There is no need for the intended recipient to have actually read the letter.

In order to achieve certainty, the safest course is for all such communications to be face to face and confirmed in writing.  If there is any doubt over the effective date of termination, claimants should ensure that their claim is presented within three months of the earliest possible termination date.

The articles published on this website, current at the date of publication, are for reference purposes only. They do not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Specific legal advice about your own circumstances should always be sought separately before taking any action.

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