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Packenham-Walsh v Connell Residential, Court of Appeal, 21 February 2006

3 March 2006
The issues

Stress at Work – Working Time Regulations – Psychiatric Injury

The facts

The Claimant was employed as Sales Manager from January 1994 until she resigned in March 1999. Her job was to sell houses and she worked at site offices on sites when new houses were being built. She met purchasers, took them around the show houses and negotiated the sale of the properties. She was paid a salary for a 5 day week and also received commission on sales.

Until April 1998 the Claimant had also been running a business involving two clothes shops. She was in business with her husband. The business failed and in 1998 she was made bankrupt. Her case is that during the 12 months prior to her resignation she was required to work excessive hours without breaks and without proper support and was subjected to bullying and insulting remarks by the Area Manager in the area where she worked.

The Judge found for the Defendant. The Claimant appealed.

The decision

1. Reliance had been placed by the Claimant on the lack of records kept by the Defendant. There were no written appraisals of employees and no records complying with Regulation 5(4) of the 1998 Regulations. The lack of records was deplorable. Whilst that and the lack of awareness of the consequences of the 1998 Regulations provided a favourable background from the Appellant’s point of view against which to assess whether there had been a breach of duty by the employer, they did not in themselves establish a breach of duty.

2. As a starting point it could not be said that the work was particularly demanding intellectually or emotionally. There had been no absences from work and on the Judge’s finding no complaints from the Claimant or warnings from others as to stress levels. There was no history of illness attributable to stress at work and no contemporaneous medical records. The Claimant had considerable personal problems and clearly was motivated to earn as much money as she could. Her resignation was motivated at least partly by a move of workplace which had adverse financial consequences.

A situation might arise in which an employer was required to protect an employee with personal problems from overwork and to protect the employer against his or her own wish to earn more money by not allowing additional hours but in terms of establishing a breach of duty that situation was far from arising in this case.

The Judge closely followed the Hatton guidelines. His finding on foreseeability was not challengeable.

Appeal dismissed.

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