Reversing the decisions in three earlier cases where awards of compensation had been made, the Court of Appeal set out guidelines for courts dealing with negligence claims brought by employees against their employers, for stress – related illnesses.
The Court said:
There are no occupations which should be regarded as intrinsically dangerous to mental health.
To trigger a duty to take steps, the indications of impending harm to health arising from stress at work should be plain enough for any reasonable employer to realise that he should do something about it. The employer was only in breach of duty if he had failed to take the steps that were reasonable in the circumstances. An employer could only be expected to take steps that were likely to do some good: a court was likely to need expert evidence on this. If the only reasonable and effective step would have been to dismiss or demote the employee, the employer would not be in breach of duty to allow a willing employee to continue in the job.
An employer who offered a confidential advice service with referral to appropriate counselling or treatment services was unlikely to be found in breach of duty.
In all cases it was necessary to identify the steps the employer both could and should have taken before finding him in breach of duty.