A September 2010 guidance paper jointly produced by ACAS and the CIPD has been published, with the intention of providing guidance to directors, managers, and HR practitioners on the legal position, and potential liabilities created, by the failure to manage workplace stress.
The guidance suggests that businesses of all sizes will benefit from taking a positive approach to limiting workplace stress, and will reap benefits which include reduced absenteeism, improved productivity and limiting the risks of prosecution or litigation.
The guidance discusses six “legal principles”:
- Health and Safety at Work,
- Protection from Harassment,
- Equality Legislation,
- Working Time,
- Consultation with Employees and Safety Representatives, and,
- Common Law Negligence.
The guidance explains how these separate, but in some cases overlapping issues can each be factors which contribute to workplace stress.
To ensure compliance with an employer’s legal obligations the guidance recommends following a 5-step risk assessment as a practical means of limiting stress related issues:
- Identify the Hazards,
- Decide who might be harmed and how,
- Evaluate the risks and decide on the precautions,
- Record your findings and implement them, and,
- Review your assessment and update if necessary.
Whilst stating that the law does not require an employer to “eliminate all risks”, the guidance reminds employers that they are required to protect employees as far as is “reasonably practicable”, and highlights case law examples where employers have failed to meet the standards required and paid a significant price as a result. One famous example being the case of a Deutsche Bank employee Helen Green, who was subjected to a “2-3 year” bullying campaign which consisted, for the most part of “minor slights”, whose “cumulative effect” over that period resulted in her suffering from a depressive illness which prevented her from continuing to work for the Bank. Mr Justice Owen was critical of the Bank’s failure to “take any or any adequate steps” to protect Ms Green, who was subsequently awarded £828,000 in damages.
 Helen Green v DB Group Services (UK) Limited  EWHC 1898