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Stress at work and Foreseeability of Injury

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s Absence Management Survey 2013 confirmed that stress continues to be one of the most common causes of absence in the workplace.  In the face of rising employee stress levels the High Court has confirmed in Easton v B&Q plc [2015] EWHC 880 (QB) that employees will encounter a high hurdle when seeking to establish that their employer should have foreseen their injury.

In the absence of being made aware of any particular vulnerability, an employer is entitled to take the employee’s actions at face value and assume he can cope with the “normal pressures” of the job.  Therefore an employee who returns to work after a period of sickness absence, without further explanation, is usually indicating he believes he is fit to resume work.

There is no obligation placed on the employer to make probing enquiries after an employee’s return to work.  As demonstrated in Vahidi v Fairstead House School Trust Ltd [2005] EWCA Civ 765, the court has held that to question an employee further on their psychological health upon return to work may be deemed intrusive, indicate “a lack of confidence” and possibly precipitate a relapse.

Therefore, although employers should consider necessary amendments to workload or working arrangements to facilitate an employee’s return, it remains the case that allowing a willing employee to continue in their job is unlikely to result in liability (as set out in Hatton v Sutherland [2002] ICR 613).

However, each case must very much be considered on its own individual facts. If you have an employee who is suffering from stress at work you should take this seriously and we would always recommend that you take specialist advise from an employment law practitioner to understand how best to deal with this situation. Although the legal hurdle claimants face in trying to prove these cases, they are very costly cases to defend.

AppleMarkRachel O’Connell, Director & Solicitor at Just Employment Ltd

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