At these stressful times it is perhaps appropriate that the Court of Appeal should hand down an important judgment on workplace stress that may make it easier for employees to claim compensation in these cases.
The case of Dickens v O2 plc has just been reported. It concerned an employee of O2 who was placed under great stress through overwork and who told her line managers that she was “at the end of her tether”. They did nothing meaningful to address her problems. Although there were other “stressor factors” in her life as well as her difficult work environment, she was able to show that O2’s failure to deal properly with her had materially contributed to her psychiatric illness. She was signed off sick with stress for several months before O2 terminated her employment.
This case has attracted some interest amongst lawyers because O2 were held not to have taken action to remedy her stress despite the fact they offered a confidential counselling service. Since the leading case of Hatton v Sutherland, which settled the law in stress at work cases back in 2002, many employers have taken the view that they are protecting themselves from a claim by offering a confidential counselling service. That position has been diluted over the intervening years, but this case just reinforces that employers cannot afford to be complacent. If an employee complains to her employer that she is becoming unwell through overwork or bullying, the employer is under a duty to take remedial action or face the consequences.
This article will appear in the Docklands and Peninsula newpapers week commencing 27th October.