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Chambers & Partners
29/04/2002

Young v The Post Office

Uncategorized

Court of Appeal

Defendant's ('the PO') appeal from the decision of Mr Recorder Jack made on 4 July 2001 by which he ordered that the PO pay the claimant ('M') approximately #94,000 in damages for breach of employer's duty. M began working for the PO in 1978 as a Personal Transport Technician and in 1988 was promoted to the position of Workshop Manager. The recorder held that M's new role was a stressful one that involved managing a team of four people with no direct line manager on site for M to call upon for help. New computer systems were introduced and, while the personal computers were regarded as an optional tool, M was nevertheless expected to familiarise himself with the operation of the system without any formal training. In 1994 M began showing signs of stress and began taking anti-depressants. Eventually M suffered a nervous breakdown that resulted in him having to take four months off work. During that time two of the PO's managers ('W' and 'B') visited M. During these visits arrangements were made for M to return to work on a flexible basis, arriving and leaving whenever he wanted. The PO stated that the aim was to reintroduce M back to work gradually. M returned to work in September 1997 having, as he described it, 80 per cent recovered. However, seven weeks later M was unable to continue as a result of stress and had to leave. During that seven-week period, M had been required to attend a one-week residential training course and had also covered for the new Workshop Manager ('L') who had been on holiday for a period of one week. Furthermore, due to the amount of work awaiting L on his return from holiday, M continued in the capacity of "acting" Workshop Manager. The recorder concluded that: (i) the PO knew that M needed to be looked after; (ii) it was not M's responsibility to tell the PO when he felt stressed; and (iii) the PO, through W and B, created a "rehabilitation package" that was not followed. The PO submitted that the recorder failed to consider the case as a whole, in particular omitting to place emphasis on the fact that: (a) M was told that he could arrive and leave work whenever he wanted to; (b) no timetable was drawn up to finalise M's return to work; (c) M was not instructed to take over from L; and (d) M worked as hard as he did of his own volition. The PO submitted additionally that the recorder was wrong to have found that M's second episode of illness following his seven-week return to work was reasonably foreseeable stating that none of M's closest work colleagues had heard M complaining about the stress under which he was apparently working.
HELD: (1) The PO's submissions on foreseeability were unpersuasive. M had already suffered from stress and it was plainly foreseeable that there was a risk of recurrence upon his return to work. (2) There was some force in the PO's submission that there had been no breach of duty in that M was reintroduced to work on a flexible basis. The case against the PO was not as strong as against the employer in Walker v Northumberland County Council (1995) 1 All ER 737 where no "special" arrangements had been made. However, the recorder was right to have found that the PO had failed to carry through the plan as discussed with B and W. (3) M could not be described as contributorily negligent in inflicting stress upon himself. Not only was M a hardworking and conscientious employee who was likely to carry out whatever he was asked to do, but he was also psychiatrically vulnerable. It was a very rare case where such a man would be expected to shoulder sole responsibility for working hard under such circumstances. The recorder had been entitled to reach the conclusion that he had. (4) M's particulars of negligence had covered fully the allegations made against the PO that eventually succeeded in the case before the recorder. It was entirely appropriate for the recorder to have made a costs order in full against the PO.
Appeal dismissed.

[2002] EWCA Civ 661

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