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Employers’ Liability for Work Place Stress: The Principles and Pitfalls - Michelle Liddy, Oriel Chambers

31/08/20. There are a variety of ways that an employer can find themselves compensating an employee for an injury sustained at work. While the majority of these claims relate to physical injury it must be the case that there are hundreds if not thousands of people working under such a level of stress that there is a compensable injury which goes unnoticed. The question is what level of stress must be sustained and what would an employer have had to have done or fail to have done in order to find themselves as a Defendant in a successful claim by an employee or former employee.

The law and cases of note

The legal position as regards liability for work place stress is no different than in other cases for employers’ liability. The usual action is one in negligence particularly since the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act, 2013 removed liability for breaches of statutory instruments or statutory provisions. In addition to standard negligence principles it is also important to consider the general application of Malik v Bank of Credit and Commerce International SA[1]which provided for the implied contractual term of mutual trust and confidence between employer and employee which means that very often employees will also plead their case in breach of contract.[2] The distinction may not be as clear cut as one would think as we will see later.[3] In Malik Lord Nicholls described this implied term as being a duty on the employer that he “would not, without reasonable and proper cause, conduct itself in a manner likely to destroy or seriously damage the relationship of confidence and trust between employer and employee.”[4]

Walker v Northumberland County Council[5]

The first case which dealt with employers’ liability for work place stress in any great detail was Walker v Northumberland County Council. The Claimant was a social worker employed by the Defendant who had a heavy, emotionally demanding caseload and suffered a with mental health issues in 1986. Upon his return to work, he repeatedly...

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