The trend towards employees winning stress from work claims against employers stumbled recently when the supermarket Tesco Stores won a case against a former employee.
The claimant had worked as a check-out controller for a number of years. She claimed that an internal restructuring and two senior personnel were responsible for her suffering a nervous breakdown and that Tesco should have reasonably foreseen this as it was aware of her psychiatric illness. She had previously been off work suffering from nervous exhaustion.
Law firm DLA, acting on behalf of Tesco Stores and its insurers, Zurich Commercial, argued that the employer had taken all reasonable steps to provide a decent working environment for the employee.
The judge dismissed the claim and found in favour of the defendant on the grounds that it could not have reasonably foreseen that the restructuring would have resulted in the claimant's nervous breakdown.
"It recognises that there are often many factors which affect a person's psychiatric health," said Andrew Peel, insurance partner at DLA.
"In this case, the judge was quite clear that there was insufficient evidence to suggest the blame for the employee's state of mind lay with Tesco but that it was a combination of many factors – not least of which related to the claimant's personal circumstances."