The firing line: can dismissal by e-mail ever be fair?

The press has been full of reports about the 38 soldiers who were recently sacked by e-mail. The non-commissioned officers who had all served for at least 22 years in the army were sent an e-mail from a senior officer informing them that that they were to be made redundant. The soldiers were given the required 12 months notice and told that they should start preparing for civilian life. One of the soldiers was working on the front line in Afghanistan when he received the e-mail.

A spokesman for the Army admitted that the e-mails were sent to the individuals by mistake and that they should have been sent to the men's commanding officers so that the news could be delivered in a face to face meeting. The mistake has generated a lot of negative press for the government who recently announced that the armed forces will need to make savings of almost £5 billion over the next four years.

It seems particularly insensitive to inform long-standing servicemen such significant news by e-mail. Can dismissal by e-mail ever be fair? The answer is no. E-mail should never be used to dismiss staff unless it is impossible to meet with an employee who has less than a years' service and therefore no right to bring an unfair dismissal claim. A face to face meeting is always the best way to deliver bad news and organisations that dismiss by e-mail are likely to receive bad press even if there is a fair reason for the dismissal. E-mails can be used in a redundancy process and this is often the easiest way to communicate with staff. However they should never replace face to face meetings which are essential to ensuring that a fair procedure is followed.