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Stress at Work

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The Court of Appeal has handed down a decision dealing with contractual liability for stress at work.

After 30 years' good employment, the Claimant developed depression after an allegation of sexual harassment was made against him (and the investigation was, in part, bungled). The Court of Appeal, overturning the High Court's decision, held:

  • a policy requiring the employer to handle complaints of harassment "sensitively" was aspirational and did not form part of the Claimant's contract of employment (paras. 17-18)
  • although the covening of a panel with two, rather than three, members was a breach of a contractual term, it was not reasonably foreseeable that the Claimant would suffer a psychological reaction as a result (paras. 22-23)
  • it was not negligent of the employer to inform the Claimant of its decision "by leaving a bald letter on his desk" - it is the content of the decision, not the manner of transmission (presumably, without more), which is important (paras. 41-42)

This case is another example of the tendency since Sutherland v Hatton in 2002 to limit the scope of stress at work claims.

Deadman v Bristol City Council