Employers feel vulnerable to being sued for causing stress


A new survey of 5,000 UK employers reveals that 82 per cent feel "vulnerable and at risk" from being sued by their employees for causing workplace stress, discrimination, or for bullying.

Thirty-four per cent said they felt "very vulnerable" and 48 per cent said they were "moderately vulnerable". Only 18 per cent said "it would never happen here" and that they felt "at no risk at all."

On the other side of the coin, just a third of the employers questioned by stress experts, Work Stress Management, knew about new legal guidance which could prevent them being sued.

The WSM survey was timed to coincide with European Health & Safety Week this week and chose workplace stress as its main theme.

It also revealed that 64 per cent of employers believed the threat of legal action from employees for workplace stress is "a very important issue" for their business, with a further 28 per cent saying it was "a fairly important issue". For those employers, though, there is a new Court of Appeal guidance advising that employers who offer a confidential counselling and advice helpline are unlikely to be sued for causing workplace stress.

Less than a third of employers who are aware of the new Court of Appeal guidance, and just nine per cent of all employers, are actually benefiting from the new legal advice by providing a confidential counselling and advice helpline for their staff.

In 2001, 6,248 UK companies paid out an average of £51,000 in damages for workplace stress. This figure represents a twelve-fold increase in the number of employees who successfully sued their employer the year before.