Work Stress Solicitors - Injury Compensation Claims

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A solicitors claim for work related stress may cover a broad spectrum of issues. In its simplest form, it relates to a claim by an employee who has suffered from an accepted psychiatric injury, which was most likely caused by unacceptable actions committed by their employer.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), adjustment disorders, depression and even hurt feelings can be the result of work related stress.

An employer could be held legally liable to pay compensation as a result of a solicitors stress claim when the injury or injuries, collectively with any losses stemming from the injury, are the result of legal wrongdoings by the employer, such as:

  • Negligence, which could include excessive workloads, failure to adhere to recommendations by Occupational Health or the failure to assess risk or abide by statutory responsibilities under various regulations of Health and Safety
  • Breach of Contract, which could include a failure to act according to procedures and policies dictated under the contract, failure to investigate any grievances sufficiently or when the investigation was not conducted according to disciplinary procedures.
  • Harassment or Common law bullying, which could include acts committed by either colleagues or managers. These acts might include exclusion from work-related events, “name calling,” and/or being sabotaged. 
  • Treatment that is contrary to the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, which could include any harassment that is more substantial than “Common Law Bullying.” For example, sexual harassment, an enduring course of conduct that is unacceptable or oppressive.

Claims for compensation for Stress at Work are broadly misunderstood and in many cases overlooked by solicitors and the public as a whole. In many situations, individuals might have a valid claim in the civil courts when the situation cannot be resolved at an Employment Tribunal or when a claim before the Employment Tribunal isn’t possible.

The cost of workplace related stress in the UK is more than £5 billion annually and makes up nearly 40 percent of the reported work place illnesses. Stress is presently the largest cause of extended workplace absences. According to a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) study, individuals were off work on average more than 4 weeks for each work-related stress absence and that stress related injury accounts for almost 40% of all workplace absences.

Damages are normally substantial for claims of Stress at Work. Compensation is often awarded for:

  • Personal Injuries
  • Hurt Feelings
  • Lost earnings, both past and possible future losses
  • Loss opportunity, in the labour market (a Smith v Manchester award)
  • Lost pension
  • Treatment Costs
  • Lost bonuses
  • Travel, as well as other related expenses

Although Stress at Work claims are complex, these basic principles apply:

  1. A Claimant must demonstrate proof of legal wrongdoing committed by the employer. This means that the employers actions were negligent or in a breach of their statutory duty.
  2. A Claimant must demonstrate that an injury or injuries were suffered and damage or loss was a result of an Employer’s wrongful action.
  3. Generally, except in those cases involved with the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, it is required to show proof that psychiatric injury to the claimant was the foreseeable result of the Employer’s legal wrongdoing.

The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 is an incredibly beneficial statute for Claimants as this Act covers an extensive array of wrongful conduct. Additionally, if the claimant can establish the employer’s responsibility under this statute, then foreseeability of psychiatric injury is not required. Also, the period of limitation under this statute is up to 6 years. Applications to a court using the Act are easier to adjudicate than discrimination claims brought under the Equality Act 2010.

The definitions of harassment within the Act are not absolute; however, most case law suggests conduct must be sufficiently grave for the Court to establish sanctions of a criminal nature against the harassing individual.

A correct test can be summarised appropriately from the case of Thomas v Newsgroup Newspapers (2001) EWCA 1233. In this case, it was judged that in order for conduct to equal harassment, such conduct must:

  • Have happened at least twice
  • The Claimant was targeted
  • Be deliberately calculated to cause distress or alarm
  • The conduct was in all situations ‘unacceptable and oppressive’

Claims based on negligence can often be determined by referencing the precedent of Hatton v Sutherland (2002) ICR 613 which provides a framework for assessment in claims filed for  Occupational Stress. Guidance and the law have progressed since the original Hatton  judgement was made however, the basis of the Hatton decision is still a starting point when assessing these types of claims.

In addition, the HSE publishes guidance regarding the management of workplace stress and it can be argued that failure in adhering to that guidance or not using that guidance as a reference whilst assessing workplace stress could be judged as negligent.

To summarise the HSE guidance, it identified six risk factors that an Employer needs to consider whilst assessing workplace stress risks that may occur:

  • Demands on an individual, such as their workload, for example, when regularly given excessive amounts or work and/or an unreasonable workload;
  • Control, when an individual has no control over workload;
  • Relationships, this assessment requires a look at possible harassment or bullying at work;
  • Change, how change at work is communicated or managed;
  • Role, ensuring that employees understand their role and do NOT have roles that conflict;
  • Support, from both management and colleagues;
  • Training, an employee needs proper training to fulfil the basic functions of their position;
  • Factors, these may be unique to individual employees.

A significant overlap exists between employment law and civil liability. The solicitor instructed to deal with the compensation claim must assess which is the best path to pursue, being either a civil claim for personal injury or an employment law claim through the Employment Tribunal. Although it is possible that both the Civil Courts and the Employment Tribunal could be utilised to pursue a claim, multiple claims based on the same incidents or facts can be considered as an abuse of the court system.

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