In another recent stress case in the High Court, Mrs Hiles was awarded £64,000 following a breakdown directly attributed to her high workload. Unlike the case of Daw-v- Intel (above), Mrs Hiles had no previous history of stress-related mental illness and her injuries were attributed entirely to workplace stress. This case highlights the need for employers to investigate concerns raised by employees about workplace stress, and to protect employees if necessary.
Mrs Hiles was a health visitor with an initial caseload of 200 patients, which increased in early 2002 to over 240, and then further increased following the redeployment of a colleague. In May 2002, she burst into tears during a performance review. In September 2002, following a short holiday, she returned to the office to find a huge backlog of work on her desk. Mrs Hiles was overcome with a migraine and was sent home.
The evidence was that her manager failed to take any measures to reduce Mrs Hiles’ workload, and in November 2002 she suffered a nervous breakdown. The High Court found that Mrs Hiles’ breakdown had been directly caused by workplace stress. Judge Moxon-Browne stated that: “…this particular injury was foreseeable and could have been prevented by the exercise of reasonable care.”
The court held that Mrs Hiles had repeatedly raised concerns that she was not able to cope with her workload, both formally and informally. Although it seemed to be accepted that workloads were increased due to difficulty in recruiting staff, and Mrs Hiles had had no previous stress-related illness, liability for the depressive illness of the employee was held to be foreseeable from her reaction to a performance review, and so employers should note the decision carefully.
The judgment was appealed by Mrs Hiles’ employer, but the appeal was rejected.