May 28, 2015

Stress at Work: An Employer's Liability?

In Easton v B&Q Plc [2015] EWHC 880, the High Court considered whether an employer was liable for an employee’s psychiatric injury caused by work-related stress.

Easton had been a high performing manager at B&Q for 10 years. In 2010, he went off work for several months with depression caused by work-related stress. Upon beginning a phased return to work, he was offered a temporary and less demanding position. The following day he was again signed off sick with depression and never worked at B&Q again. He brought a personal injury claim against B&Q for psychiatric injury (namely depression) caused by work-related stress.

The key question for the High Court was whether B&Q knew, or should reasonably have known, there was a risk that Easton would suffer from psychiatric injury. On the basis that Easton had enjoyed a long-established managerial career and had no history of psychiatric illness, the Court found that the psychiatric injury had not been foreseeable. The Court also found that B&Q could not reasonably have foreseen Easton’s relapse because, at the time, although he had been on medication, he had said he felt ready to return and B&Q had been entitled to take this “at face value”.  Easton’s claim therefore failed.

This is a good result for employers, although it should be noted that the outcome can be very different where an employee brings a disability discrimination claim; the disability legislation is broad and provides significantly greater protection for employees.

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