In Yapp v Foreign & Commonwealth Office, the Court of Appeal reversed a decision to award damages to Mr Yapp, who developed psychiatric injury as a result of his employer’s unfair actions towards him.

Mr Yapp was the British High Commissioner to Belize and in June 2008, a minister in Belize made allegations of inappropriate behaviour and misconduct against him. As a result of these allegations, Mr Yapp was withdrawn from his post and suspended before the allegations had been fully investigated.  Mr Yapp went on to develop a psychiatric injury as a result of his suspension. 

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office refused to accept liability for the claim and the claim was fought to trial, which Mr Yapp won. 

However, the Foreign Office appealed and the case went to the Court of Appeal.  Even though the appeal judges agreed that Mr Yapp had been withdrawn from his position in an unfair way, they still ruled that he was not allowed to recover damages for his psychiatric injury.

The Court of Appeal reiterated the case law that for a claimant to recover psychiatric injury as a result of their employer’s breach of duty, it must have been reasonably foreseeable to the employer that their treatment would cause the claimant to suffer psychiatric injury. 

This case really illustrates that claimants really do face an uphill battle in “stress at work” cases. 

This is a very hard test for a claimant to pass as generally speaking, people are not normally expected to suffer psychiatric injury except in very exceptional circumstances.

This means that even someone who goes on to have a nervous breakdown as a direct result of an unfair dismissal may not be able to recover damages. Those unfortunate few who, through no fault of their own, do go on to develop psychiatric injury, are very often unable to bring a claim just because their employers didn’t expect them to suffer such an injury - even when the employers accept they have acted unfairly.

Although Anthony Gold were not involved in this particular case, I have a great deal of sympathy for Mr Yapp, who had to go to trial (which is tough enough even when you don’t have a psychiatric condition) and who thought he had won his case at trial - only to have that snatched away from him by the Court of Appeal.

From where I sit, this area of law is very unsatisfactory as innocent people who suffer serious injury as a result of unfair treatment by their employers are so often barred from bringing their claim.  Until enough pressure builds to have the law changed, such victims will continue to suffer without any form of recourse.