It was bad enough to receive an e-mail warning that they were facing the threat of compulsory redundancy. But further misery was heaped on five academics at Nottingham Trent University when the letter inviting them to discuss their futures mistakenly displayed "deleted" paragraphs giving notice of their dismissals and setting a date for departure.
The lecturers' union, which has described the error as a "massive clanger", is warning that the mistake could cost the university more than embarrassment - it could lead to a major legal battle.
"Under the law, employers must give the employee a genuine opportunity to put forward suggestions for avoiding dismissal before the final decision is made," said Andy Pike, national official at the University and College Union.
"For a human resources practitioner to send a letter that seems to make clear that this procedure is not being followed is amazing. We often suspect that employers just go through the motions when it comes to this."
UCU said that if the dismissals were confirmed, an employment tribunal was likely.
The letter was sent earlier this month by David Eade, human resources manager. It stressed: "This letter is not notice of dismissal" and said that the meeting would provide an opportunity to "make any alternative suggestions as to how redundancy might be avoided".
But the e-mail also displayed edits, including: "Your employment... will be terminated by reason of redundancy."
A spokeswoman for Nottingham Trent said that "every opportunity" had been taken to redeploy staff. She said it was unfortunate that the draft had been visible but said the issues had been clarified with the staff.