House of Lords warns against workplace stress complacency

Employers must not become complacent on workplace stress despite a
favourable House of Lords ruling limiting the circumstances when employees can
make a claim against their organisation.

House of Lords guidance effectively means that individuals can now only win
damages for workplace stress if their employer knows they have suffered a
previous breakdown or if they have told bosses they think that stress is going
to cause them ill-health.

The guidance also states that organisations will usually be able to defend
themselves from stress claims by providing employees with a confidential
counselling service.

Although the Law Lords ruled in favour of teacher Leon Barber in the case,
awarding him £72,547 in compensation, they also decided that the Court of Appeals
workplace stress guidance was valid.

However, Ben Willmott, employee relations advisor at the Chartered Institute
of Personnel and Development, said the ruling must not lull employers into
ignoring the dangers of workplace stress.

He warned that high levels of stress would hit employee morale and
productivity while increasing staff turnover and absence levels. Willmott said
that these organisational problems would cause far greater damage than
individual claims through the courts.

"Managing stress is about managing people properly. This means ensuring
that employees have reasonable work demands, achievable targets and the support
and training needed to achieve those targets," he said.

Companies that fail to manage workplace stress also risk enforcement action
by the Health and Safety Executive under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

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