Sacking by text message

I recently found out that one of my managers fired a member of staff by text message. We’re concerned about the legal implications of this following the recent high-profile case involving the dismissal of Cardiff shop worker, Katy Tanner, by text message. Is this form of dismissal legal?

The implementation of the statutory dismissal and disciplinary procedures in October 2004 set out minimum procedures that must be followed when dismissing any employee. However, if an employer fails to follow the procedure, the main recourse open to an employee is a claim for unfair dismissal. To claim this, an employee must have a minimum of 12 months’ service.

In the case of Katy Tanner, the company defended its actions by stating that the text message was only sent after repeated attempts to phone the employee. As it is a youth business whose staff are part of the youth culture, it believed it was justified in choosing this method of communication. Tanner had worked for her employer for less than 12 months, she had no remedy for her employer’s failure to follow the minimum procedures.

Before dismissing an employee, you should always bring the poor performance to the attention of the individual, and allow several attempts for the employee to improve before taking a decision to dismiss them.

Any dismissal should then follow the three-step statutory dismissal procedure set out in the Employment Act 2002.

In theory, this procedure should always be observed regardless of the employee’s length of service. In practice, the length of an employee’s service is often the deciding factor as to whether an employer will observe the minimum procedures.

If Tanner had been with the company for a year and her case been taken to a tribunal, her dismissal would have been found to be unfair and the employer’s arguments would have attracted little sympathy. While dismissal by text will be effective to terminate an employment relationship, it is poor practice and may give the employer a reputation for all the wrong reasons.

By Daniel Wilde, head of employment at Dolmans Solicitors


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