Record pay-out for stress

Council admits liability for psychological damage as travellers’ site warden
is forced to retire through stress

Worcestershire County Council has paid more than £200,000 to a former
employee in a record settlement for work-related stress.

The council admitted liability for the psychological damage suffered by
travellers’ site warden Randy Ingram, who was forced to retire on the grounds
of ill health in September 1997 after a severe nervous breakdown left him
permanently unable to work.

Worcestershire is just the latest local authority employer that has had to
dig deep into its pockets as a result of stress. Northumberland County Council
social worker John Walker won about £175,000 in an out of court settlement in
1995 and the social worker Beverley Lancaster received £67,000 damages from
Birmingham City Council.

Ingram was the third Worcestershire site warden to suffer stress-related
illness. The council admitted it had failed to manage the warden service
properly, leaving employees without the back-up to evict troublesome licensees.
As a result Ingrams was subjected to extremely abusive and violent behaviour
over a two year period.

"Randy is a changed man and still very sick – the chances of him
working again are remote, so compensation must cover loss of employment
prospects and pension rights as well as lost earnings," said a spokeswoman
for public service union Unison, which backed Ingram.

The union’s head of health and safety Hugh Robertson said the case was a
warning for employers who failed to act on evidence of stress among staff. The
case illustrated that the key to coping was training, support and good
management, he added.

"In this case there was a history of people having stress reactions and
of requests for action from employees," Robertson said.

"As with any other issue, employers must take each employee as they
find them. But those that do risk assessments and take complaints seriously
have nothing to worry about – where the employer has done all that is
reasonably practicable to reduce risk they will not be liable."

Nick Jones, employment law partner at Hammond Suddards, said employers can
expect to face more awards that compensate heavily for financial loss as well
as pain and suffering.

"Though the facts of this case are extreme, the principle applies to
employers who turn a blind eye to violence, bullying or other stressful
situations. The financial exposure could be higher in the case of a high
earning executive."

Enforcing authorities are increasingly insisting that employers carry out
psychological risk assessments, especially in "high-stress"
occupations. The Environment Agency, for example, was recently required to
carry out such an audit.

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