Is a telephone counselling service enough of a defense?

StressThe case law regarding stress in the workplace is constantly evolving. This post looks at the availability of a telephone counselling service for employees, and whether this alone is sufficient for employers to discharge their duty of care.

In the Hatton Guidelines in 2002, Hale LJ stated in her comments that “An employer who offers a confidential advice service… is unlikely to be found in breach of duty.” However, two more recent cases have thrown this assumption into doubt.

Daw v Intel Corporation 2007 saw Daw be awarded £134,000 damages after suffering a breakdown from work-related stress although Intel had a telephone counselling service. Daw had made numerous complaints about her workload to her managers and insufficient action had been taken. This case confirms that each case will be seen on it’s merits, and the availability of a telephone counselling service alone is not sufficient to show an employer has carried out their duty of care.

StressThe second case is Dickens vs 02 plc. Again Dickens had made a number of complaints about her workload. She had expressed her concern that she could not cope for much longer before she became ill, and she was regularly arriving late for work. Her line manager’s response was to tell her to contact the telephone counselling service. However, it was held that this was not an adequate response to the situation. The court ruled that the employer should have sent Dickens home and referred her to occupational health, even though she had not been signed off by her GP.

These two cases show that the duty of care for employers is gradually becoming clearer, and that employers cannot rely on the availability of a telephone counselling service to discharge their responsbilities.

This post was written by Charlie Damonsing of CLAssociates. CLAssociates specialises in helping businesses manage stress in the workplace, providing consultancy, training and 1-2-1 support. For further details please contact Charlie on 0771 559 6487.

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