Employer wins dispute over notice on fixed-term contract

An employer has won a dispute over whether an employee was entitled to three months’ notice while on a fixed-term contract.

The case involved a teacher, Ms Kilraine. Her letter of engagement stated that she would be employed from 1 September 2013 until 31 August 2014.

The letter identified the applicable pay scale for her position but no other terms and conditions of employment.

In July 2014, the school notified her that her contract would not be renewed or extended on expiry of the fixed term. In January 2014 she became employed by the Lion Academy Trust following a TUPE transfer.

Her employment ceased on 31 August 2014. She complained to an employment tribunal that she was entitled to three months' notice of termination in accordance with the terms of the applicable collective agreement (the Burgundy Book).

The case went all the way to the Court of Appeal, which ruled in favour of the employer.

It held that it was clear from the engagement letter that Kilraine had been engaged on a fixed-term contract until 31 August 2014. It was the essence of a fixed-term contract that it came to an end by the simple passing of time.

Kilraine’s case depended on her engagement letter being reversed by the Burgundy Book provisions by converting her fixed-term contract into a contract terminable only on notice.

However, it would be unusual for the specifically agreed terms between individual parties to be changed by reference to general terms contained in a collective agreement.

While an employee on a fixed-term contract would want to know whether their contract was going to be renewed or extended, and that it might be good practice for an employer to notify the employee before the expiry of the fixed term, that did not justify building in a formal notice provision.

Please contact us if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of employment law.

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