A solicitors compensation claim for stress at work can cover many issues. However, the fundamental element of a claim is that the employee must have suffered one or more recognised psychiatric injuries caused as a direct result of an employer’s wrongful actions or negligence.

The psychiatric injuries associated with work stress can range from hurt feelings to adjustment disorders or depression all the way to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Employers can be judged liable to pay financial compensation when an employee experiences loss stemming from these injuries if the employer is adjudged responsible for causing any of the following legal wrongs:

  • Negligence, including a failure to comply with recommendations from Occupational Health, failure in risk assessments, failure to implement Health & Safety regulations, or excessive workloads.
  • Breach of Contract, which includes a failure to execute procedures and policies dictated by contract, failure to adequately investigate employee complaints or the failure to conduct appropriate disciplinary procedures against others.
  • Harassment that conflicts with the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 – this might include harassment more substantial than that covered under ‘Common Law Bullying.’ Assaults, Sexual harassment or sustained courses of conduct judged ‘unacceptable and oppressive.’
  • Common Law regarding Harassment or Workplace Bullying, which could include those acts carried out by colleagues or management, and might include exclusion, name-calling or actions that undermine the victim.

Employment Tribunal or Civil Court

There is a widespread misunderstanding regarding claims for Stress at Work. The public and a large number of solicitors regularly overlook work related stress. Most solicitors are unaware of the consequences of psychiatric damage to individuals in the workplace. In many cases, employees could have a compelling claim in a civil court whereas an Employment Tribunal may not have jurisdiction or be unable to award compensation for whatever reason.

The price tag in the United Kingdom for workplace stress exceeds £5 billion every years and estimates conclude that it accounts for 40 percent of illnesses in the workplace. Now considered the greatest cause of persistent work-related absences, stress according to the 2005 Health & Safety Executive study discovered that individuals missed work typically 30 days for each instance. In fact, one-third of all work absences can be attributed to stress.

Compensation Awards

Significant compensation is being awarded in claims brought by knowledgeable work stress solicitors for:

  • Injuries of a Personal Nature
  • Hurt feelings
  • Lost earnings, former and projected
  • Lost pension
  • Lost opportunities in future labour markets (a Smith v Manchester award)
  • Lost bonuses
  • Travel, treatment, and other expenses

The fundamental principles of work-related stress, though complex can be categorised as:

1)      A claimant must show that their employer acted in a manner that was legally wrong, i.e., negligence or in violation of statutory responsibilities;

2)      A claimant must show that he or she suffered injuries, damage, or loss due to legal wrongdoing by the employer;

3)      Ordinarily, except actions contrary to the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, it is a requirement to show that a psychiatric injury was reasonably foreseeable as a result of wrongful actions committed by an employer.

The Protection from Harassment Act 1997

This legislation is advantageous to the claimant. The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 contains a broad range of potential actions by work stress solicitors and when a claimant establishes liability under this Act, the requirement of foreseeable injury is removed. Additionally, the limitation period is six years according to this Act. Due to those reasons, claims under this Act are often a reasonable alternative to the Equality Act 2010 for discrimination claims. Since the Equality Act 2010 contains no definitive assessment of what is harassment, in most legal cases there has been a suggestion that claimants must show that the unlawful conduct was so grave that the Courts may apply criminal sanctions upon the harassing individual.

Case Law

The proceedings of Thomas v Newsgroup Newspapers (2001) EWCA 1233 most appropriately summarises or provides a correct test of conduct that constitutes harassment which must:

  • have taken place on two or more occasions;
  • have specifically targeted the claimant;
  • be calculated in each instance as ‘oppressive and unacceptable’

Claims with negligence as the basis can frequently be decided by referencing Hatton v Sutherland (2002) ICR 613, which provides a framework for evaluating claims of Occupational Stress. Although the law and its guidance have evolved since the original Hatton judgement, it remains the basis for assessing these kinds of claims.

Furthermore, the HSE has issued guidance pertaining to the handling of work related stress. Failure by management to adhere to the published guidance or when the employer evaluates workplace stress, the employer must at least reference the HSE guidance or the employer could be judged negligent.

A review of the guidance from HSE identifies six factors of risk, which employers should examine when appraising workplace risk factors. These factors are:

  • Unreasonable and/or excessive demands regularly placed on an individual
  • No control over his or her work
  • Harassment or bullying in the workplace
  • How change is communicated or managed in the workplace
  • Employees are not given conflicting roles and they understand their role
  • Management and colleague support
  • Training is adequate to undertake basic functions of their position
  • Issues which are unique to individual workers

A considerable overlap prevails between solicitors work stress compensation claims brought to the Employment Tribunal and claims brought in the Civil Courts. In some instances, it may be possible to pursue both; however, it might be judged to be an abuse to pursue claims in both the Employment Tribunal and the Civil Court, particularly wit

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