Stress at work: Olulana v Southwark LBC2

The Court dismissed a claim brought by an employee who had developed schizophrenia while working for the local authority, who claimed it had been triggered by work related stress.

The claimant claimed damages for negligence and breach of statutory duty. The claimant had been a finance officer at the local authority for over a decade. She was seen as a hard worker, although with some deficiencies as a senior account manager. In 2003, she was suspended for incorrect working. Later that year she began to suffer from delusions including that she had a reputation as a whistleblower and was suffering from victimisation. There was nothing in her employment records to indicate that she was suffering from psychiatric injury. Her job had imposed stresses and from 2007-2009 there were a number of meetings with management to discuss the situation. A temporary member of staff had been employed to alleviate the pressure on the claimant. A few months later the claimant was referred to occupational health for hypertension, but said she was all right otherwise, and her employer took her at her word.

In late 2011 she claimed that management were hacking into her computer and following her in a car. Her delusions continued and increased, and she was diagnosed with schizophrenia. The claimant alleged that as a result of the local authority’s actions some time after 2003 and lasting until 2011 she suffered psychiatric injury, namely the acceleration of schizophrenia.

The claimant’s claim was dismissed. The test to be applied was that of a reasonable and prudent employer, taking positive thought for their workers in the light of what they knew or ought to have known. The local authority had treated the claimant in an exemplary way once it knew of her illness. There had been nothing in the claimant’s records to show that she had suffered from psychiatric injury, and the local authority had been entitled to take what she said about her health at face value. The claimant had been in denial about her psychiatric condition until after she had left her job. The court additionally preferred the local authority’s expert evidence that the claimant had a neurobiological condition that had developed insidiously and inevitably. The claimant had not proven stress to be a causative factor of her condition.