Pakenham-Walsh v Connell Residential, Court of Appeal  EWCA Civ 90
Mrs Pakenham-Walsh worked as a sales manager. Following some family problems, she began to work increasingly long hours, often without holiday. Eventually Pakenham-Walsh left the company and brought a personal injury complaint, related to alleged stress from her working hours and working environment.
The judge accepted Pakenham-Walsh had suffered a psychiatric injury but found that she had worked extra hours by choice, and that the most likely reason for her injury was not stress at work nor the conduct of her managers. Relying on previous case law, the court also found her illness was not reasonably foreseeable by the company, as she had not complained about her hours or shown any obvious signs of problems. She appealed.
Although the company’s lack of records in terms of employee appraisals and compliance with the Working Time Regulations (WTR) was referred to as “deplorable”, the court found these factors do not automatically establish a breach of duty of care by an employer. All the facts need to be considered in assessing whether the company was liable for psychiatric illness.
In this case, Pakenham-Walsh’s lack of complaint, lack of time off or any history of illness attributable to stress, coupled with the considerable personal problems which she faced and her wish to earn as much money as possible, led to circumstances falling far short of establishing that the company was liable for her injury.
On that basis, the Court of Appeal upheld the lower court’s decision.
As this case demonstrates, an employee who voluntarily works excessive hours without complaint will encounter real difficulty in holding their employer liable for a stress-related injury. The court pointed out that the company’s conduct, particularly its lack of records and seeming disregard for the WTR, created a favourable background for such a complaint.
Had the company properly monitored Pakenham-Walsh’s excessive overtime hours and lack of leave, her court case might have been avoided.