Walker v Northumberland County Council  IRLR 35
Stress, ‘Breach of its duty of care in failing to take reasonable
steps to avoid exposing the employee to a health endangering
Established the precedent that an employer can be held liable for
mental injury to an employee caused by work-related stress.
the plaintiff, a social worker in charge of a team of field workers
had reported his stress, arising out of a greatly increased workload
handling child abuse cases, to his superiors and suggested a
restructuring of services. This was refused and the plaintiff
suffered a nervous breakdown. On his return to work the plaintiff
was given to understand that he would have an assistant to ease his
workload, but it transpired that this assistant was only
intermittently available. He suffered a second breakdown and had to
The council was found to have breached its duty in respect of the
second nervous breakdown, though not the first. After the first
breakdown, it had notice of the particular risk facing the plaintiff
and could have taken steps to reduce the stress, by reducing his
workload and providing greater assistance. The court accepted that
this could have caused some disruption to other services provided by
the council, but this did not outweigh the obligation to protect the
plaintiff against a serious risk to his health.
The decision is distinguishable, but what matters is the view that
an employer can be under a duty of care to provide an employee with
assistance, of uncertain scope and duration, to enable him to
perform his contractual duties.
Estimated cost to the employer of
“Management failure” was over £400,000.
* Damages of £175,000
* £150,000 for the 2 week trial
* Sick pay
* Ill health pension