In a recent case, Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust v Haywood  UKSC 22, the Supreme Court found that when an employment contract is silent on the matter, there is an implied term that notice of termination is deemed served (ie it takes effect) when it comes to the attention of the employee and s/he has read it (or has had a reasonable opportunity to do so) and not when it would have been delivered in the ordinary course of the post, nor on the date when it was actually delivered.
A letter giving 12 weeks’ notice of termination was sent to the Claimant’s home address on 20 April 2011. However, the Claimant was on holiday at this time. On 27 April, the Claimant returned from holiday and read the letter.
The dates were crucial, because if the notice of termination was deemed to have been served on or before 26 April 2011, the Claimant would have received a much lower pension as she would have been under 50 years’ old when her employment actually terminated, on 19 July 2011 (or before).
As stated above, the Supreme Court held that service of notice of termination took place on 27 April 2011, when the Claimant actually read the letter and so by the time her employment terminated 12 weeks’ later (20 July 2011) she had turned 50 and was therefore entitled to the higher pension.
Seeing as the Supreme Court made this decision, it now settles the position: notice of termination by post starts to run when the letter comes to the attention of the employee and they have either read it or have had a reasonable opportunity of doing so.
It is probably best, therefore, if an employer is going to dismiss an employee, to inform the employee in person and then to confirm this is writing. Giving notice of dismissal in person will help to avoid any ambiguity about the date that notice was given.
Either way, it is best to ensure that your contracts of employment include provisions that deem when notice takes effect.
Please note that this information is provided for general knowledge only and therefore specific advice should be sought for individual cases.