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INTEL Incorporation (UK) Ltd v Daw, Court of Appeal, 7 February 2007

20 February 2007
The issues

Stress at work – Hatton – provision of a counselling service by employer – whether provision of a counselling service is sufficient to discharge the duty of care.

The facts

The Claimant was employed by the Defendant as a finance assistant and subsequently as a mergers and acquisitions payroll integration analyst on a salary of £33,000.00. In June 2001 she suffered a breakdown and had not worked since. She suffered from chronic depression. In late 2000 to early 2001 her workload was particularly heavy, peaking in 2001 and thereafter declining. The Judge found that the demands made upon her were unreasonable and the risk of harm to her health clear and that, had appropriate action been taken, a significant breakdown would probably have been affected. In particular he found that reporting lines in her job were confused and that there was a problem of priorities between the demands made upon her by different managers in different departments. Secondly, she was provided with insufficient assistance and had to work excessive hours to get the job done. In particular the Judge described a series of events between September 2000 and March 2001. During this period the Judge noted at least 14 “protests” from the Claimant to management relating to excessive workload, organisational problems, unclear management direction, perceived bureaucracy, the Claimant’s desire to be involved with finance, problems in her relationship with Human Resource teams, concern at promotion prospects, and her relation with her closest colleague. In early March 2001 the Claimant was found by a manager at her desk in tears. The Claimant was asked to write down what was bothering her and she produced a document which the Judge regarded as important, summarising her difficulties. As a consequence of this note some action was promised. The expected additional assistance did not materialise and the Claimant’s health deteriorated. The Judge found that following that memo urgent action should have followed and her workload reduced. The Judge commented that a company with the resources of INTEL could immediately have ameliorated her position.

The Claimant had had two episodes of post-natal depression, 1995 and 1998. The first occasion involved an absence from work of about 4 months and the second for a longer period, though less than a year. On the first occasion the Claimant had had 8 sessions of counselling with the Defendant’s counselling service. On the second occasion she was under community psychiatric care. The external confidential counselling service and support remained available to the Claimant.

The decision

The Claimant held an important administrative position in a large organisation. The stress from which she came to suffer was not caused by volume of work alone as was set out in her memorandum to the manager in March 2001. The Judge was entitled to hold that it was a failure of management which created the stresses and led to the breakdown and that by early March injury to the Claimant’s health was reasonably foreseeable in that the indications of impending harm to health were plain enough for the Defendants to realise that immediate action was required.

There were cases in which an employee could be expected to take refuge and counselling services. Here however the Claimant’s problems could be dealt with only by management reducing her workload. Although it had been put to her that there were 3 possible solutions to her problems, one of which was a transfer out of the team in which she worked (and which she had been told by management would probably affect her career), it was not a rule of law that an employee who did not resign when stresses at work were becoming excessive necessarily lost a right of action against her employer.

The reference to counselling services in Hatton did not make such services a panacea by which employers could discharge their duty of care in all cases.

Appeal dismissed.

Note.
There was also an appeal on quantum. In respect of losses to Trial the Judge deducted 25% discount for time off work for the depression the Claimant would probably have suffered apart from the breach of duty and the possibility of further severe depression during the 5 year period between the breach and Trial. The Defendant appealed however against the award of future loss on a multiplier of 6 (the full multiplier for a Claimant of her age was 18.41). The appeal was on the basis that the medical evidence was to the effect, on the Judge’s findings, that by October 2006 there was a 50% chance that the Claimant would have suffered a further episode of depression, stress at work apart. On that basis the Defendant had argued that there should be no future loss award. This appeal was also rejected on the basis that there would have been “episodes” of psychiatric illness but their intensity was difficult to predict and that they would not necessarily have been as disabling or as prolonged as the current illness caused by the breach of duty. The Court of Appeal found that the Judge was entitled to conclude that there would probably have been periods of employment after 2006. The Judge had carried out a balancing exercise which was appropriate, the multiplier of 6 could not be criticised.

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The content on this page is provided for the purposes of general interest and information. It contains only brief summaries of aspects of the subject matter and does not provide comprehensive statements of the law. It does not constitute legal advice and does not provide a substitute for it.

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