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Intel liable for busy worker's depression

'Company clearly had resources to help'

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An Intel employee who became depressed when her workload increased due to corporate cost cutting has won compensation from the company in the High Court. The employee, referred to in the case as Mrs D, worked in the finance department and was responsible for integrating the payroll functions of a series of acquired companies.

At the same time, the court heard, pressure was exerted within the company to keep headcount costs down. The resulting stress on Mrs D, who was at one point working over 60 hours a week and into the small hours at home, contributed to a depression which has left her unable to work for the past five years, the court found.

An email from senior Intel manager Larry Walz shown to the court said: "Intel's expenses are growing faster than our revenue…Scott and I will be slowing Employee Services' growth…This email explains exactly what you need to do…no more hiring without approval… No hiring means no externals or internals; this applies to replacement and new positions…This rule applies to all situations; if you think you have our approval to hire, you need to rejustify…first."

The case heard that Mrs D felt that she "was trying to juggle the hours required of two employees," and that "it would have been surprising if I had not shown signs of the stresses and strains."

The case relied heavily on the judgment in a similar case brought by a teacher, Mrs Hatton, against the chairman of the governors of a high school. In Mrs D's case, however, the previous instances of depression which the judge said should have warned the employer of a possibility of a relapse took place outside the office. Mrs D suffered post-natal depression, something of which her employers were aware, which Justice Goldring said should have alerted Intel to the possibility of depression becoming a problem again.

"This decision is a timely reminder of the duty of care employers owe their employees," said Ben Doherty, an employment lawyer with Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind OUT-LAW. "It is of interest as Mrs D's previous instances of depression were not related to workplace stress and therefore demonstrate that employers should pay particular attention to employees who have suffered from depression irrespective of its cause."

The situation was said by psychiatrists to be salvageable up until March 2001, at which point Mrs D's depression was too far advanced to halt quickly. Goldring said the company clearly had the resources to help.

"I have no doubt that a company with the resources of Intel could immediately have ameliorated the position as far as Mrs. D was concerned," he wrote. "When she finally suffered her breakdown in June 2001 it was able very speedily to ensure the work was done."

Doherty said that this, too, is an important ruling. "The case also highlights that the courts will consider an employer's resources when examining whether they have been negligent," he said.

He awarded general damages of £16,000 plus future loss of earnings and special damages which are yet to be calculated.

See:

Copyright © 2006, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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