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An employment contract states that notice of resignation (edit: or termination) should be given

30 (sixty) days

prior to end of employment. Clearly, the number represented by the digits contradicts the number given in words. Which of the two should prevail (and why)? Or will the containing clause be deemed invalid?

The text is in a word processor format file (editable). Jurisdiction: South Africa. In the past, in my experience, employment contract in this field (and many others) specified a notice period of 30 days / 1 calendar month, so I see that as a sort of "norm". Although I have seen a 6-week notice period in the recent past, so maybe there is a trend towards longer notice periods.

(As an aside: I can see the value of this practice (giving a number both in digits and spelling it out) when a document is hand-written (or faxed) and may be unclear, but in the age of the electronic documents and e-mail???)

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The general principle is that when one party writes a contract, and there is an ambiguity, the ambiguity is interpreted against the interest of the writer (contra proferentem). The case of Hypercheck v. Mutual and Federal Ins. confirms that South African law operates under this doctrine.

  • The other general principle is never say the same thing more than once in a contract. – Dale M Aug 27 '17 at 23:30
  • Do I then understand correctly: in case of dispute, and no earlier as that time, the other party to this contract may decide which interpretation suits her best? E.g.: on resigning, the employee prefers 30 day's notice as she already has another job offer lined up; while in the case of being let go unexpectedly, she insists on 60 day's notice which will give more time to find another job. – fr13d Aug 28 '17 at 9:51
  • @fr13d: Your interpretation sounds correct to me, except that if the employer fires her it's not a "resignation". Perhaps there is another part of the contract regarding firings and layoffs. – James Aug 28 '17 at 13:09
  • @James, you are correct, but my original post was worded clumsily (from memory). The original wording at least tries to apply some "symmetry" to the ending the employment - whether the employer initiates termination ("let go") or the employee ("resign"), the same notice period applies. Which makes the contra proferentem principle unfortunate in an ironic way. – fr13d Aug 28 '17 at 19:46
  • So if at the same time one employee quit, and one was laid off, and somehow both went to court, a judge might say "notice for quitting is 30 days" and 15 minutes later in the second case "notice for being laid off is 60 days". – gnasher729 Aug 28 '17 at 21:49
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This answer to a similar question (Why are numbers usually written twice in contracts?) on English Stackexchange leads me to believe that the number written out as words take precedence over numbers written in digits (caveats: United States, and checks not contracts).

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