GQ Employment Law points out that legal claims relating to stress are some of the most expensive claims that the financial services sector faces. The law firm explains that stress claims by employees normally fall under personal injury and disability discrimination rules, which means that the damages are uncapped (unlike unfair dismissal damages which are capped at £68,400).
The Health and Safety Executive estimates that 18,000 workers in UK financial services and insurance business suffered from work related stress, depression or anxiety caused by their job in the last 12 months.
Jon Gilligan, Partner at GQ Employment Law, comments: 'The incredibly tough trading conditions and volatility of the last four years has led to record levels of stress and mental illness within the City'.
'The struggle to deliver on income targets, the shadow of redundancy and the long hours culture has created a pressure cooker environment. The trend that we have seen in employment claims is something that occupational health therapists are also seeing'.
'If a senior banker or trader is no longer able to work because of stress then that can mean a claim for lost income easily running into the tens of millions of pounds'.
In one of the few City cases to go to court in recent years, a secretary for an investment bank with an annual salary of £45,000 won £835,000 from her employer when she was badly managed following a bout of stress, which equated to nearly 20 years of loss. Many City employees are on much higher salaries and bonuses, meaning their claims would be of much greater value.
Gilligan says: 'The claims are often so big that employers are forced to settle the cases before they reach a tribunal'.
Biggest claims tend to occur if employees return is mismanaged
Stress related employment claims typically arise when an employee who has returned to work after an initial stress related absence suffers a further breakdown. Gilligan explains: 'This is when the City’s 'eat stress for breakfast' attitude can cause problems'.
When an employee returns from a stress-related absence reasonable adjustment must be made to that employee’s working conditions to prevent them having a relapse. That may include cutting their working hours or forcing them to take a reduced workload.
Says Gilligan: 'It’s important not to throw the employee straight back into the bear pit'.
What can employers do ?
GQ Employment Law explains that employees can mitigate the risk of facing an expensive claim by taking reasonable steps to respond to their employee’s condition, such as:
- Making sure their employee sees an occupational health therapist once they return from sick leave caused by stress
- Making reasonable adjustments to the employee’s work to take into account their stress
- For example, for a sales person in a bank adjustments might include reducing their targets and appraising them and setting their bonus accordingly
- For an M&A banker who frequently has to work long hours as part of their job, adjustments might include allowing them to build up the scale of their hours over a period of time rather than returning them to full time immediately
Making adjustments for employees can have practical benefits as well as meeting legal requirements. Gilligan says: 'Employees who feel that they have been treated well by their employer will feel more loyalty to them and will be much less likely to launch a legal claim against them'.
In some cases, such as for brokers, the stress might mean the employee was never able to return to their job because there are no reasonable adjustments that the employer can make. In that case the employer may have to ask the employee to move jobs.
Source: GQ Employment Law