Employers warned over stress ruling

Law Lords' decision should not lead to 'complacency' over strained employees

Employers have warned not to be complacent over workplace stress following a recent House of Lords ruling on the issue.

In a key case, the Law Lords upheld a ruling in favour of teacher Leon Barber, awarding him £72,547 in damages for stress at work.

However, the Law Lords also backed the Court of Appeals’ guidance on workplace stress in the wake of the case.

Under the guidance, an employee can only win damages for stress at work if either his or her employer knows he or she has suffered a previous mental breakdown or has been informed that the employee will suffer ill health through stress at work.

The Court of Appeal also stated that employers will usually be able to fend off legal action for workplace stress if they offer staff a confidential counselling service.

Although the guidance appears to boost firms’ chances of avoiding costly court action, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) warned employers that they will still be punished if they fail to deal with workplace stress.

The CIPD said that bosses must not be complacent and should take steps to ensure the needs of employees are met.

Workplace stress costs UK businesses over £1 billion a year, with millions of working days lost due to illness suffered by under-strain staff.

Ben Willmott, employee relations adviser at the CIPD, said that firms needed to be aware of workplace stress.

“High stress levels will cause increased levels of staff turnover and absence as well as low employee morale and productivity, all of which will cost employers much more than successful individual claims for work-related stress through the courts,” he said.

“Managing stress is about managing people properly. This means ensuring employees have reasonable work demands, achievable targets and training to help them achieve those targets,” he said.

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