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Watch your workloads, firms told


A court has for the first time awarded damages against an employer for creating injurious stress. Mark Whitehead reports

The IPD and employment law experts have warned firms to review their management practices in the light of a case in which a housing officer was awarded compensation for work-related stress.

Mike Emmott, the institute’s adviser on employee relations, said the case of Beverley Lancaster highlighted employers’ duty to look after the mental well-being, as well as the physical health and safety, of their staff. Lancaster was awarded £67,000 having successfully claimed that she had suffered serious physical injury in her job at Birmingham City Council.

The council was found to have reneged on its promise to give her training and support when she transferred in 1993 from her job as a senior draughtswoman to a position as a housing officer. She retired on the grounds of ill health in 1997.

The TUC believes that at least 460 similar claims for compensation from people who have suffered stress at work are currently being investigated.

“It is hoped that this case will make employers sit up, take notice and look at the way they manage their organisations,” said a spokeswoman for Unison.

Ellen Temperton, a partner at employment law firm Baker & McKenzie, said there was still a burden on employees to prove that the workplace had caused them injury, but employers could no longer turn a blind eye to high workloads.

“They must now learn to recognise the obvious signs of people not coping and offer support in recruitment, training and managing workloads in a way that may not have been expected before,” she said.

In the same week, another former council worker, Cath Noonan, accepted an out-of-court settlement after claiming years of bullying and intimidation while working at Liverpool City Council.

Two years ago, in the first case of its kind, social worker John Walker was paid £175,000 by Northumberland County Council in an out-of-court settlement. He had suffered two nervous breakdowns as a result of an “impossible” workload.

Temperton said the payouts were “a reflection of the fact that expectations in the workplace are changing, and that management should be more approachable”.


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