Kate Oldfield – Managing Partner and Head of Personal Injury – discusses workplace stress.

Kate Oldfield, Managing Partner and Head of Personal Injury and Clinical Negligence at DBF Law

We are increasingly being contacted by people who are absent from work due to occupational stress and enquire about the possibility of bringing a claim for personal injury.

Unfortunately for most people who have to have time off work due to occupational stress bringing a claim can be quite difficult. The Court has set a high bar for claimants to prove that their employers were liable for the injury suffered.

The leading case of Hatton v Sutherland set down 16 practical propositions to provide guidance as to the principles that a court will consider when looking at occupational stress claims.

In relation to an employee, in order to prove the employers were at fault the employee must satisfy that the stress was reasonably foreseeable by his employer and must show that the employers’ breach caused, or materially contributed to, the harm suffered.

In particular, the employer will only be liable if he had foreseen, or should have foreseen, a possibility of injury to the employee.  Although it is entitled to assume that the employee can withstand the normal pressures of the job, foreseeability depends upon what the employer knows (or ought to reasonably know) about the individual employee.  What must be considered are the characteristics of the particular employee and the particular demands placed on them.

Ultimately, the employer is only liable if they were personally informed by the employee (or should have been aware due to previous breakdowns) of the employee’s vulnerability, but failed to provide the employee with help and assistance.

The hurdle for employees to establish foreseeability of their injury is high, but once the employer is on notice of a potential stress-related illness, the employer must take remedial steps, e.g. sabbaticals, redistributing work amongst colleagues and providing access to counselling. Therefore, an employer will be in breach of his duty if he fails to take steps which are reasonable in the circumstances.

As set out above it is important that you report any problems you are having to your employer as soon as they occur. It is sometimes difficult to bring up mental health issues with your employer as people can be worried about the potential repercussions. However, employees should not be afraid to discuss these issues with their employer.

Your employer will hopefully provide the assistance or counselling you need to enable you to continue in your job. However, if they fail to assist after you have put them on notice you will then have a much better chance at bringing claim against them.

If you would like to discuss any issues raised by this article, please contact Kate Oldfield on 0161 832 3304.

For more information about Kate and her work, please click HERE.

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