Legal Updates

Employment – Duty of Care – Bullying – Psychiatric Injury

In the case of Green v DB Group Services (UK) Ltd [2006] the claimant was admitted to hospital and diagnosed with a major depressive disorder. She eventually returned to work, but suffered a relapse. She brought proceedings in the High Court against her employer for negligence under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 (the 1997 Act) on the grounds that she:

▪     had been bullied by four women in her department; and

▪     was bullied by P, a particularly abusive employee, for whom the defendant should be held vicariously viable.

In addition, she complained that her return to work had not been handled with sufficient care by the defendant. She also alleged that the defendant had failed to prevent further exposure to P. This was all compounded by the fact that there was expert evidence to show that she was vulnerable to psychiatric injury before she began working for the defendant.

The court held that:

▪     the claimant had been the subject of a relentless campaign of mean and spiteful behaviour carried out by the four women, specifically designed to cause her distress.

▪     P’s behaviour towards the claimant had been domineering, disrespectful, dismissive, confrontational, and specifically designed to belittle her in the eyes of others.

▪     these two factors amounted to harassment under the 1997 Act and was sufficiently linked to her employment to find the defendant vicariously liable.

▪     the employer had failed to protect the claimant from the harassment when the line managers knew, or ought to have known, what was going on.

It was also held that it was reasonably foreseeable that the behaviour she was subjected to, would instigate psychiatric injury. It should be noted, however, that the claimant failed to show that the employer had not managed her return to work with sufficient care.

The bullying carried out by the group of women and by P was the material cause of the claimant’s first breakdown. During the period when the claimant’s return to work, the defendant had not been in breach of duty in managing her return to work with sufficient care. She was already in a psychiatrically fragile condition, and it was at this time that the causes behind the claimant’s first breakdown became the causes of the claimant’s second breakdown.

The claimant was to be compensated for:

▪     the two major depressive episodes caused by the behaviour at work;

▪     the period of four years where she was unable to work;

▪     her loss of enjoyment of life; and

▪     the fact that her vulnerability to depressive disorders had been increased.

It was held that even though she had a pre-existing psychiatric vulnerability, she would have only suffered serious depressive disorders in the event of wholly abnormal stress. The court held that the behaviour she experienced at work amounted to wholly abnormal stress.

Please contact us for advice on employment law or issues of harassment at enquiries@rtcoopers.com or visit http://www.rtcoopers.com/practice_employment.php

© RT COOPERS, 2006. This Briefing Note does not provide a comprehensive or complete statement of the law relating to the issues discussed nor does it constitute legal advice. It is intended only to highlight general issues. Specialist legal advice should always be sought in relation to particular circumstances.

 

 

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