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Stress and Foreseeability of the Damage Done

We at SCE have always received a large amount of queries relating to work related stress claims from employees that believe the events leading to their Employment Tribunal claim have inflicted psychiatric injury upon them. While we are not personal injury lawyers and so do not act in such matters, plainly there is a very clear overlap between the two areas of the law.

The threshold for proving such claims however is extremely high, being centred in the main around the concept of foreseeability on the part of an employer. While many employees then may feel that they have been put to undue stress at work, turning such an accusation into a viable case against an employer is difficult to do.

This point was recently re-emphasised in the High Court case of Easton v B&Q plc. Here the Claimant Mr Easton was a successful Store Manager, though became unwell from the occupational stress of his role, subsequently bringing a claim for breach of statutory duty and/or negligence against his employer. A core factor was a failure to carry out sufficient risk assessment.

Mr Easton had needed to take around five months off owing to his condition, being in receipt of therapy and medication while he convalesced. He eventually returned on a phased basis at a store that was less busy and closer to his home address, though his malady surfaced once again and he was signed off as unfit for work, bringing his claim against B&Q thereafter.

The core question in Mr Easton’s case, as it is in many such cases, was whether the injuries he had sustained were foreseeable on the part of B&Q.

The trial Judge found that an employee who returns to work after a bout of illness and absent condition of return is usually implying that he is now fit to undertake his role as normal. It follows that the chances of an employer being able to foresee a work related stress injury to such a person are remote, again supporting the established position that the threshold in cases of this nature is a high one.

Mr Easton’s case failed in respect of this foreseeability requirement for his first episode. As to his relapse, while B&Q were now aware he suffered from the ailment, the fact that Mr Easton took medication on his return was not an indicator of how his continued employment should have been managed. The rationale for this being that there are a great many individuals undertaking difficult and demanding roles while medicated. On the facts available then, Mr Easton’s relapse was also found to be unforeseeable on the part of his employer.

As to the issue of insufficient risk assessment by B&Q, the company had a codified process for managing stress related issues in employees, though this required the employee to report the problem. The Court ultimately found that Mr Easton had made inadequate efforts to engage via that process and that in any event a wider risk assessment would not have altered the run of play.

Conclusion

Per the above, enquiries in relation to such cases are common, though cases that meet the required threshold are extremely rare in practice, though employees with concerns should always make these known to their employer as soon as possible via the appropriate channels.

For employers, the ideal position is to have some form of codified stress management and risk assessment policy in place to ensure that any such issues can be addressed early on, which could stop any stress related problems in the workforce from going too far.

If you need advice in relation to any of the issues raised in this article please do not hesitate to contact me for a free 30 minute initial consultation on 0113 350 4030 or at samira.cakail@scesolicitors.co.uk


Please note that the information in this blog is to provide information of general interest in a summary manner and should not be construed as individual legal advice. Readers should consult with SCE Solicitors or other professional counsel before acting on the information contained here

Samira Cakali

Samira Cakali is a pragmatic and approachable solicitor advocate with extensive contentious and non-contentious experience in the fields of employment law as well as civil litigation, within a range of commercial businesses from SME’s to multinationals as well as senior executives.

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