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Setfords’ Stress Team Wins Occupational Stress Claim

Setfords’ Consultant Solicitor, David Miers, successfully advised a client with their occupational stress claim against their employer. Details on this successful case are below.

The client commenced working with the employer (a large law firm) in 2015 as a Senior Litigation Executive and claimed that their stress and depression had arisen due to their employer’s breach of common law duty of care and fundamental breach of contract.

The client moved to the firm in August 2015 to have a better work-life balance compared to their previous firm. The client took a pay cut to ensure that the workload they were expected to undertake would be manageable without overworking.

In September 2018, the client attended their GP for an emergency consultation as they felt overwhelmed with the amount of cases and had thoughts of self-harm. They were signed off work until November 2018, with a sick note that said “stress”.

From receipt of the client’s first sick note, the employer was aware that the client was unwell and vulnerable to psychological harm. The employer was accordingly under a duty to take reasonable steps to protect the client from the risk of psychological harm.

The client returned to work in November 2018 on amended duties for four weeks. At this time, their caseload was effectively reset, and they were promised more support. However no occupational stress risk assessment was undertaken upon their return and their cases steadily increased once again.

In February 2019, the client emailed their team leader and the partner in charge informing them how their excessive workload was affecting their health once more.

The client also spoke with another Partner shortly afterwards to discuss their caseload situation, and repeated that the pressure and occupational stress was growing. The partner reiterated there were ongoing interviews, and indeed, staff did start working during that time, but their impact on the excessive workload was negated as other fee earners resigned.

In February 2019, the client attended their GP for a medication review as they continued to feel that they were struggling with their depression.

Despite the conversation with the partner, the client’s caseload continued to be in the region of 400 files.

Due to the sheer volume of files they had to work on, they were unable to provide their clients with adequate service levels and, on a daily basis was subjected to aggressive and insulting emails and calls demanding updates and progress on files. Further, due to the inability to progress all of their files, the Court criticised the client on numerous instances.

Despite being clearly advised that the client was struggling with overworking and their mental health, no steps were taken to lighten their caseload or otherwise provide them with the support they clearly needed to mitigate occupational stress.

Towards the end of August 2019, the client asked for ‘Flexi time’ to achieve a better work-life balance. This request was refused, despite having no reason and having always approved similar requests by other staff. This rejection was made in front of other staff, including junior staff, leaving the client feeling humiliated and unsupported.

With their mental health deteriorating due to the unmanageable workload and lack of support from management, the client attended their GP in September 2019 and was advised to initially self-certify as sick. The client again attended their GP in September 2019, reporting increased symptoms of depression and suicidal ideations. They were signed off sick and remained so.

David Miers’ stress team picked up this particular occupational stress case and secured a win of nearly £40,000 for the client.