Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Vulnerability, stress and support

The judges of the court of appeal have returned to the issue of stress in the workplace. The case of an accounts officer who had probably been over-promoted and ended up unable to work at all is a salutary tale for employers.

The claimant had been confronted with a heavy responsibility for meeting an external audit. She asked to be removed from the task and was showing medical symptoms that might be related to stress. The company promised her support and training from a named person who then left.

She was offered counselling, which she was already receiving through her GP. The court found that the end was entirely foreseeable.

The offer of counselling was pointless. What was required to ease her position was management action, especially when it transpired that she had a known vulnerability to stress.

The case is a reminder that simply offering counselling is not enough if the real need is for someone to deal with the situation. While unfitness for work may lead to dismissal, the employer has a duty to try to ensure that employees can meet the demands of a job: whether by the reallocation of tasks, a break from work, training or support.

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