For Premier League footballers, life often seems a luxury with six figure weekly wages, etc, but for lower league players, it can be a very different story.
Take the story in the news today of Phil Marsh, who received a text message from the new manager of Rhyl FC introducing himself before adding later in the same message:
“we’ve decided we won’t need you next season.”
The response from Marsh was perhaps appropriate;
“I wasn’t staying anyway. I’m signing back for Man Utd in the summer but thanks for the text – phone call would have been nice though.”
In the world of football, particularly in the semi-professional game such as in this example, it is more a matter of common courtesy than of legality. However, it does beg the question whether an employer could legitimately terminate an employee’s employment just by sending them a text message.
The answer is that a dismissal has to be clear and unambiguous. By this, we mean that the employee needs to understand that their employment is being ended. So long as this is made clear, it doesn’t matter whether it is in a letter, in an email, by text message or verbal. The disadvantage of a purely verbal dismissal is that it is always open to the employee to allege that they were not told they were being dismissed.
Whilst it is not good practice to tell somebody in a text message they are being dismissed, it can nevertheless still count as a formal dismissal.
Whether the dismissal is a fair one under employment law is then a different matter.
Generally speaking, to qualify for normal unfair dismissal rights, an employee has to be employed continuously for at least 2 years. An employee with no unfair dismissal rights who is dismissed by text message will probably have no legal recourse other than for their notice pay and holiday pay, unless they can show discrimination or another claim that does not require a minimum period of service.
An employee with 2 years’ service or longer who is told out of the blue by text message that their employment is ending will normally have a very strong unfair dismissal claim, not least because the employer has probably failed to follow a fair disciplinary procedure.
As society becomes more and more familiar with communicating official information by text message, it will perhaps become less surprising for individuals to be given the news that their employment is ending through this means of communication. That said, the point being made by Marsh was that it would have been common courtesy for the manager to have made a phone call to break the news to him and I believe most of us would sympathise with this view.