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What happened?

The employees of Aviva Investor, the global insurer’s asset management division, were stunned into silence today when they received a rather shocking email. 1,300 of Aviva’s employees received an email sent by the company’s HR department stating that they’d been dismissed with immediate effect. The email instructed the workers to hand over all company property and to maintain strict confidentiality after the end of their employment. Fortunately for 1,299 staff members the email was only intended for one person. The mistake was quickly realised, however, and a further email was sent out to the unintended recipients apologising for the mistake.

The mistaken email comes two days after another restructuring of the board of Aviva Investor was announced and the prior announcement that job cuts will be made as a part of an ongoing restructuring process.

Can the unintended recipients claim for unfair dismissal under employment law?

Generally, if the intention to dismiss on the employer’s behalf is clear and unambiguous then an employee may take such intention at face value (Southern v Franks Charlesly & Co). However, it is clear on the facts that Aviva did not intend to dismiss 1,299 employees. Further, any purported dismissal was swiftly retracted and the real situation made clear. The affected employees of Aviva would therefore not have had a substantive claim for unfair dismissal under UK employment law.

Our employment lawyers’ thoughts on this issue

This is clearly a rather bizarre case. What it really demonstrates is how easy it is for the wrong button to be pressed and for the Human Resouces at a company to be made to look a little foolish!

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