Stress Counselling is Insufficient
Employers must do more than just provide stress counselling according to an article in the Safety & Health Practitioner (Feb 2007)
Alarm bells should be ringing for employers who think that the provision of stress counselling services at work is enough to protect the mental health of their workforce as a result of a recent judgement from the Court of Appeal.
On 7 February, the Court of Appeal upheld a decision made by the High Court last year, that a payroll analyst be paid £135,545 in damages for having suffered a breakdown, brought on by pressure at work.
An employee A at Intel Corporation for 13 years, suffered a breakdown in 2001 and alleged that it was caused by her employer’s negligence. She told the original trial that she felt she was doing the work of two people, working 60-hour weeks, and continuing into the small hours at home.
A said the company had failed to address her repeated representations about the amount of work she had. During the period between late 2000 and early 2001, A’s workload had been particularly heavy and in March 2001, her manager found her in tears at her desk.
Subsequently, she spelt out her problems, including a request for the appointment of another member of staff, in an email for her manager to come up with solutions. An additional member of staff was never appointed and, as a result, A’s health deteriorated.
Intel argued that had A taken advantage of counselling services and medical assistance available to employees, the urgency of her situation would have become clear. However, Lord Justice Pill said counselling services were not a “panacea” by which employers could discharge their duty of care.
The last five years have seen an increase in stress-related claims after the appeal court ruled in 2002 that such complaints could succeed where it was “reasonably foreseeable” that an employee could suffer a harmful reaction.
The decision to uphold the ruling means that, in future, an employer’s provision of counselling services and medical asssistance for staff will not be enough to protect them against workplace stress damages claims – particularly if unreasonable demands have been placed on staff, or, as in this case, protests have been made by an employee, and not acted upon.
Employers should have an active stress management program within their health and an active safety management system which identifies stressors within the organisation and implements effective stress control measures within the workplace. If your company would like assistance with managing stress please contact us here
International Stress Management Conference Webcast
The International Stress Management Association (ISMA) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) hosted a major conference in London, on 2 November 2005, entitled, Making the Management Standards Work.
The objectives of the conference were to
- Introduce the HSE Stress Management Standards for Work-related Stress and explore how they can be best introduced into an organisation
- Share good practice and lessons learnt with others
- Learn about the long term business benefits of effectively managing work-related stress
The conference marked National Stress Awareness Day 2005 and the launch of new HSE guidance on the subject of stress. There are two pieces of guidance;
- Making the Management Standards Work:- How to Apply the Standards in your Workplace.
- Working Together to Reduce Stress at Work: A Guide for Employees
Keynote presentations from the conference were broadcast as a live webcast, and are accessible via the HSE stress website week commencing 7 November 2005. For access to the webcast and guidance click here.