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Stressed workers can call for counselling

View profile for Sarah Whitemore
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Employees suffering from depression caused by work-related stress could ask their employers to pay for psychiatric counselling, following a recent ruling by the Employment Appeal Tribunal.  Here Sarah Whitemore, Employment Partner, explains what this means for employers in the future.

The decision followed a claim brought by Lynda Butcher, the ex finance and reception manager of Croft Vets, a veterinary practice where she had worked from 1996 to 2010.  Following a series of promotions in her job during a period of rapid expansion at the practice, Mrs Butcher’s performance started to suffer between 2008 and 2010, and she was relieved of some of her duties.

When she was diagnosed as suffering from depression in 2010, with her GP recording that it was triggered by work-related stress arising during the previous two years, her employers referred her to a psychiatrist for an independent report.

The recommendation of the psychiatrist was for further counselling, suggesting that Croft Vets fund the treatment.  When this did not go ahead, Mrs Butcher resigned and brought a claim for unfair dismissal, saying her workload was intolerable and that her employer had ignored the expert recommendation that may have helped her to cope.

The claim succeeded, and was upheld when the employers appealed against the decision, with the Employment Appeal Tribunal ruling that Croft Vets had failed to make reasonable adjustments to help her deal with her depression, and that Mrs Butcher had been unfairly constructively dismissed.

The tribunal said that the employer had failed to make ‘reasonable job-related adjustments’ under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, and later the Equality Act 2010, to allow her to return to work, which would include providing counselling and psychiatric help, as the illness in this case was caused by workplace stress.

The 1995 Act provides that ‘a person has a disability if he/she has a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and a long-term adverse effect on his/her ability to carry out normal day to day activities’ and reasonable job-related adjustments include ‘giving, or arranging for, training or mentoring whether for the disabled person or any other person’.

“It’s a judgement that will signal warning bells for employers to make sure they are responding appropriately to mental health issues,” explains Sarah.   “But it shouldn’t be interpreted as requiring employers to fund private health care, as the issue was not the payment of private medical treatment in general, but payment for a specific form of support to enable Mrs Butcher to return to work and to be able to cope with the difficulties she had been experiencing.”

Sarah concludes, “It’s worth revisiting how employee reviews are handled if there is any question of work-related stress affecting performance.”

If you are looking for advice on making reasonable adjustments for your employees you can contact Sarah or the Employment Team on 02380 717 717, or visit their website www.warnergoodman.co.uk.

ENDS

This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.