Stress awards goalposts moved in favour of employers

Staff will have to raise concerns
over stress at work with their employer before resorting to the courts to have
any chance of winning compensation following yesterday’s ruling by the Court of
Appeal.

The Appeal Court judges laid down
guidelines for the courts after quashing three payouts awarded to employees
suffering stress at work totaling £200,000.

The guidelines will mean:

• Employers will usually be able to
assume that employees can withstand the pressures of the job unless they know
of some particular problem or vulnerability

• If the employer offers a
confidential counselling service with access to treatment they will rarely be
held in breach of their duty of care

• Employees will need to raise their
concerns regarding stress with their employers and give the employer a chance
to do something about it. If they do not give the employer this opportunity
they will find it hard to prove a breach of care.

Chris Mordue, of law firm Pinsent
Curtis Biddle said: "This is an important decision as it makes stress
claims harder to win. But it may encourage employees to raise their concerns
more than they do at present. This will allow them to bring a claim based on
the employer’s response to the complaint, for instance, arguing that the
response was inadequate. Note also that the Court of Appeal upheld an award
made in the fourth of the three cases. So employers are not off the hook
entirely, even though the goalposts have been moved in their favour."

The guidelines were
laid down after the court allowed three appeals by employers over work-related
stress claims.

A fourth appeal was
dismissed "not without some hesitation".

By Ben Willmott

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