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Intel owed depressed employee more than counselling

Failure of management created the stresses

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Simply providing counselling for employees does not absolve companies of responsibility for their employees, the UK's Court of Appeal has ruled. The Court found that Intel was responsible for a worker's breakdown even though it provided counselling.

"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," said Lord Justice Pill in his ruling. "The reference to counselling services in [similar case] Hatton does not make such services a panacea by which employers can discharge their duty of care in all cases."

Intel must pay now compensation to Tracy Ann Daw, the employee who suffered from stress and depression when her workload shot up following company cost-cutting. The chip giant has lost its appeal against last year's ruling in the employee's favour.

Daw worked in the finance department of the company and was responsible for integrating the payroll functions of companies which Intel acquired. Daw told the original trial that she felt she was doing the work of two people, working 60-hour weeks and into the small hours at home.

Daw had suffered from post-natal depression on two occasions, and one of her managers knew this. When that manager found Daw in tears he asked her to put in writing what was wrong.

She wrote an email which outlined the excessive work that was being demanded of her and concluded: "I cannot sustain doing the level of work that I am currently doing. No-one is getting a particularly good service, I am not enjoying what I am doing, bureaucracy is stressing me out (evidenced by my violent mood swings – bad sign … been here before – twice"), HR/PX [human resources and another manager] are demoralising me and I want out".

The original court decision, and the Court of Appeal, found that Daw's manager should have known that the reference to having been there twice before was to the post-natal depression; should have known that Daw's workload was excessive; and should have acted to protect Daw.

Pill said that Daw was very obviously not the kind of employee to attempt to exaggerate or invent a problem with stress. "She was loyal and regarded by them as of the highest calibre, with a capacity for hard work. She wished to remain in her employment with them and had prospects of promotion," he said.

"In my judgment, the judge was fully entitled to hold that it was a failure of management which created the stresses and led to the breakdown. The judge was entitled to hold that, by early March, injury to the respondent's health was reasonably foreseeable. The indications of impending harm to health were plain enough for the appellants to realise that immediate action was required," said Pill.

"The case is a reminder for employers that they must act in the context of all the information they have about an employee", said Ben Doherty, an employment specialist at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind OUT-LAW.COM.

"This underlines that employers do owe their employees a duty of care, and must even take into account events and conditions that take place outside the workplace," said Doherty. "Employers who are told of such conditions must be careful to make allowances for them in their treatment of employees."

Daw was awarded £134,545.18 in compensation and in lost future earnings. Intel also appealed against that award figure, but Pill upheld the original award.

See: The judgment

Copyright © 2007, OUT-LAW.com

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

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