Weekly dilemma – BlackBerries and stress

I am the HR director at a UK telemarketing company. Six months ago, our sales director issued BlackBerries to all her sales managers so they could keep in touch while out of the office. Last week, one sales manager made a complaint about the pressure and stress caused by being on call 24/7. None of the other managers have the same worries. What should our policy/guidelines be on the use of BlackBerries?

You are right to be concerned about the welfare of your employees and you should treat the complaint seriously. Working and/or being contactable outside of normal hours could certainly increase the risk of stress.

The fact the other managers do not appear to be affected does not mean you can ignore the complaint – each person reacts differently to work pressures. If handled badly, you could be liable for claims of breach of contract, disability discrimination and harassment, or personal injury claims for stress-related illnesses.

You should arrange to meet the manager to gain a greater understanding of the problem. Consider if it really is necessary for them to be on call 24/7, bearing in mind your duty to protect the health and safety of staff, and the limits on hours of work under the Working Time Regulations.

Consider rotating on-call duties between managers and look at any reasonable suggestions for change made by the employee.

Make sure you monitor the use of these devices. Removing BlackBerries from use entirely may well solve the problem, but it is likely to adversely affect the business or aggrieve other employees. Regular risk assessments and a well-drafted stress policy are important and could set out your expectations in terms of dealing with e-mails received, and encourage employees to limit the use of the devices or switch them off when they are not on call or working.

Carry out stress awareness training on how to recognise the symptoms of and avoid the effects of stress. Finally, encourage a culture in which staff feel able to report any difficulties to you at an early stage.

Anna Bunting, solicitor, employment, Davis Blank Furniss Solicitors

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