It can be hard to know whether an employer has caused an employee’s stress-related illness, particularly when there other stressful events taking place in the employee’s life.

The EAT has clarified that rather than simply decide whether or not a claimant’s illness was, at least in part, caused by the employer and award compensation for the period during which she was unable to work, an employment tribunal should try and establish the extent to which the illness was caused by the employer, and what proportion of the illness was the result of other factors.

The employee worked in a care home. It was alleged that she had been stealing from patients. She was dismissed following police investigations and disciplinary proceedings carried out by the employer, although she denied the allegations and the police proceedings were eventually dropped. The employee did find new work following her dismissal, but it was at a lower pay, and she later had to leave that job due to illness.

The employment tribunal found that the dismissal was unfair and awarded compensation for the employee’s loss of earnings. It also found that her illness was at least partly caused by the dismissal and they therefore awarded compensation for her losses during her sickness absence.

The employer appealed and the appeal was allowed by the EAT. It said that, as the employee’s illness started 20 weeks after her dismissal, it must be considered whether it could be said that this illness “was sufficiently caused by the actions of the employer as would justify a finding that she was responsible for the illness and consequently for the loss of earnings”. The case was remitted back to the employment tribunal with instruction that it should consider the percentage by which the employer’s actions were responsible for the illness, as against other factors which probably also contributed to it.

Adey-Jones v O’Dowd