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Counselling service cannot compensate for management failings

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The Court of Appeal has ruled that companies cannot rely on having a counselling service available if employees suffer ill-health through overwork.

Tracy Daw won £114,000 after overwork left her suffering from depression. The tribunal heard that she had complained 14 times about her workload and that she had three managers who had conflicting demands.

Her work for Intel involved transferring payroll details from mergers and acquisitions – and the court heard she was putting in 50 or 60-hour weeks during the spring of 2001.

After one of her bosses found her in tears, she sent a lengthy email explaining what the problems were and saying she had similar feelings to when she had suffered from post-natal depression.

Mrs Daw was considered an ‘excellent’ employee and Intel said it would provide another member of staff to help but failed to do so.

The company appealed against the Employment Appeal Tribunal decision, saying that it should not be liable because it provided a counselling service.

But Lord Justice Pill said counselling services were not: “A panacea by which employers can discharge their duty of care in all cases. The respondent, a loyal and capable employee, pointed out the serious management failings which were causing her stress and the failure to take action was that of management.”

The judges also confirmed the award of £114,000 and said Intel should also pay interest on the amount.

The case is important for HR because it confirms that if an employee complains about overwork and there is a clear risk the workload could lead to ill-health, then action must be taken.

2 Responses

  1. good decision
    as a specialist in employment law I would also applaud the decision
    providing sticking plasters to gaping wounds is not the answer.
    I have not read the decision and reconciled it with Hatton v Sutherland but my evaluation would be that providing counselling will potentially be a good defence but not a ‘get out of jail free card’

  2. A Good Decision
    As a specialist in stress management, I couldn’t agree more with this ruling.

    There is a temptation for employers to believe that, if they run a couple of courses and provide counselling that their obligation towards the wellbeing of their employees has been fulfilled. They believe they’ve ‘ticked the boxes’ and that’s it.

    However, as I say to my clients, genuine change to ensure employee wellbeing has to become part of the company culture and has to be led by management.

    It seems a shame that we have to wait for compensatory awards such as this to happen, before some companies start to take this seriously, but if that is the catalyst, then so be it.

    Annie Lawler
    Breathing Space for Business

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