Previous Article Next Article Comments are closed. Lords’ ruling means employers need to look for signs of stressOn 1 May 2004 in Personnel Today A landmark legal ruling by the House of Lords has put the onus on employersto keep up-to-date with what causes occupational stress and the effectivenessof any precautions they may take. The ruling, in the case of Barber v Somerset County Council, has also madeit clear that being unsympathetic to complaints of occupational stress orhaving autocratic or bullying leadership could count against an employer. The case centred on former schoolteacher Leon Barber, who suffered a mentalbreakdown in November 1996, after working long hours following a restructuringat his school the year before. He had spoken to the head teacher and twodeputies but nothing had been done to assist him. The judge had taken the view that more should have been done for him, andthat the school had been in breach of its duty of care. According to law firm Cloisters, which represented Barber, in ruling in hisfavour and awarding £72,547 damages, the law lords agreed that, once anemployer knew an employee was at risk of suffering injury from occupationalstress, it was under a duty to act. This duty continued until something reasonable was done. Certified sickness absence because of stress or depression needed to betaken seriously by employers, requiring an inquiry from the employer. “They should not be brushed off unsympathetically, or by sympathisingbut simply telling him or her to prioritise their work without taking steps toimprove or consider the situation further,” said Cloisters. Critically, a management culture that was sympathetic and ‘on their side’could make a real difference to the outcome of a case. “Monitoring employees who are known to be suffering from occupationalstress is mandatory. If they don’t improve, more drastic steps may need to betaken to help them. Temporary recruitment may be required. Although this willcost money, it will be less costly than the permanent loss through psychiatricillness of a valued member of staff,” added Cloisters. The statutory duty to carry out risk assessments had also been recognised bythe judgment, it suggested. The judgment was welcomed by the National Union of Teachers, which said moreteachers might be able to pursue claims as a result. Related posts:No related photos.