• Robert Spicer

Workplace Stress- Part 10

Reasonable foreseeability Reasonable conduct by employer Ramwell v Tesco Stores plc (2000) HSB 289: 23, Manchester county court R was employed by Tesco as a checkout controller. In 1992, as the result of a restructuring exercise, she was demoted and a new manager was appointed to supervise her. This caused her to suffer from nervous exhaustion and in 1994 she took early ill-health retirement. R had serious domestic and personal problems. Tesco was unaware of this. She claimed compensation from Tesco, alleging that: • Tesco had been negligent • It had breached her contract of employment by failing to provide her with a safe system of employment • It should have provided her with better occupational healthcare • The new manager had made her life a complete misery. The decision of the county court was as follows: • The claim should be dismissed • The judge accepted Tesco’s evidence that R would have found fault with anyone who was appointed as a new manager • Tesco had known of R’s grievances and had done everything which it could reasonably do to help • Tesco could not have reasonably foreseen that R would develop a psychiatric illness as a result of her problems at work. It was unaware of her personal problems • Tesco had displayed reasonable conduct in dealing with R over the restructuring. Its managers were reasonable, sympathetic and tolerant throughout. Foreseeability Excessive workload Mather v British Telecommunications plc (2001) SLT 325, Scottish Outer House M claimed that she had suffered injury to her mental health because of stress at work. She claimed that her employers were both directly liable and vicariously liable for the acts of her manager. M was unable to work after April 4, 1994, and resigned on September 23, 1994. She started proceedings on August 25, 1997. The claim included allegations that she had been subjected to substantial pressure at work relating to organisational changes. She and colleagues had repeatedly complained of an excessive workload, lack of training in a new administrative system and technology, and hostility and harassment by her manager. She had consulted the employers’ welfare officer early in 1994. Her employers ought to have known that setting impossible deadlines and failing to provide adequate training and support would lead to stress levels which could result in injury. They knew that she suffered from insomnia. She also claimed that the way in which she had been treated after April 5 had materially contributed to her injury. On behalf of the employers it was argued that the action was time-barred. The Scottish court ruled that it could not be said in advance of inquiry that M’s injuries had all been sustained by April 4. There was material which could found a foreseeable risk of injury of a psychiatric nature. Foreseeability Remote risk Gillespie v The Commonwealth of Australia (1991) 105 FLR 196, Australian Federal Court G, an administrative officer employed by an Australian government department, was posted to Venezuela. He contracted an anxiety state and resigned on grounds of ill-health. G sought compensation from his employers for breach of contract and negligence. He claimed that his mental illness had been caused by the employers’ failure to warn him about conditions in Venezuela and failure to protect him from those conditions. The question for the court was whether G’s illness should have been foreseen, and if so, whether reasonable steps were taken to minimise or avoid the risk of illness. The following factors were considered: • G had requested a posting to Venezuela • He had been assessed as in good health and with an ability to adjust • The environment in Venezuela was aggressive, strange and hostile. At first instance, the judge found as follows: • G had not shown that there were steps which his employers should reasonably have taken to prevent risk of injury • It had not been foreseeable that G was particularly vulnerable to psychiatric damage • Although it was foreseeable that a person working in a strange and hostile environment was at risk of a mental breakdown, that risk was remote • Additional information about conditions in Venezuela would not have deterred G from taking up the position or usefully prepared him • His employers did not know that G was psychologically vulnerable • G’s claim failed. On appeal, the appeal was dismissed. The judge’s findings were upheld.

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