Another week, another batch of headline-grabbing compensation awards as the
litigious society takes hold. Facing a tribunal case can cost an arm and a leg
these days, it seems.
On the subject of arms and legs, their value is set to rise also. The
maximum recompense for loss of or injury to a limb is almost certain to double
when the Appeal Court meets in three weeks’ time to review a series of cases.
The expected increase in pay-outs will also encompass psychological damage in
stress at work cases.
The temptation for many employers in response to these developments is to
throw their hands in the air, complain about wimpish employees scurrying to
their "no win, no fee" lawyers and bemoan the lack of backbone in
This is to misread the situation. It can actually be difficult to win large
sums at a tribunal; it takes a long time and one needs a strong case. It is
also true that awards have been difficult to obtain for some very worthy cases,
such as the retired coal miners quietly dying of emphysema while they await
compensation from the Government.
In the case of workplace stress one needs to demonstrate a diagnosed
psychiatric condition; cases have been thrown out where this is not shown. The
award in such cases is only partly compensation – it also includes lost
This does not mean that there is no cause for concern over the rising levels
of awards. There is a real danger that the "have a go" society could
arrive through the force of its own momentum, as there is some anecdotal
evidence that a few employers, scared by the newspaper headlines, are rolling
over as soon as they receive a claim for stress.
It is here that the HR professional has a crucial role. Just as many line
managers panic with a misbehaving employee, wrongly believing that it is
impossible to sack someone, so they can assume they are in the wrong over a
compensation claim when they are not.
By staying calm and addressing the facts of the case and of the law, the HR
professional can maintain sanity in a rapidly changing environment.