28 November 2014: Stress and a Person of Ordinary Robustness: Can suspension trigger a personal injury claim for depression caused as a result?
Generally no, said the Court of Appeal in Yapp v Foreign and Commonwealth Office 2014 which held that depression is not a reasonably foreseeable consequence of summary withdrawal.
In this case there were allegations of sexual misconduct and bullying, and so the FCO withdrew the High Commissioner of Belize without carrying out a preliminary investigation or allowing him to respond to the allegations. He claimed damages for a depressive illness which he developed as a result.
In the absence of any prior awareness of a particular susceptibility to stress, it was not reasonably foreseeable that depression would result from Mr Yapps’ withdrawal from his post. His personal injury claim failed.
In exceptional circumstances, an employer’s conduct might be so devastating that it is foreseeable that even a person of ordinary robustness might develop a depressive illness as a result. However, this was not such a case.
Employers considering dismissal should always follow a fair procedure before dismissing, regardless of length of service. Employees with mental health issues, or a history of being signed off sick with stress, might be more susceptible to personal injury if dismissed without a fair procedure. It is therefore generally better to be play it safe.
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