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Watch staff hours, employers warned

19 December 2005

Hospitality employers have been warned to pay more attention to employees' hours after a landmark ruling opened the floodgates for compensation claims linked to staff stress.

Six Continents Retail (now Mitchells & Butlers) lost its appeal in October against the award of money to a former employee who collapsed from stress.

Mark Hone, who was working an 82- to 92-hour week when he collapsed at work, had said to his employer that he felt tired, but had not made an official complaint.

In previous cases this would not have been enough to win the verdict, but the judge said the hours he was working represented a "cry for help", and his employer was culpable.

Roddy Macleod, partner at Weightmans solicitors, said: "The ruling means that ignorance is no longer a protection for employers. If you don't have the proper safeguards in place you're going to end up in court paying compensation."

In the past, cases of staff stress have normally been settled in favour of the employer, especially if the member of staff hasn't made a formal complaint about their situation.

Best practice points for employers

  • Have a documented policy for dealing with stress.
  • Analyse hours worked by employees for unusual patterns, and make enquiries where necessary.
  • Ensure any meetings are properly documented.
  • Ensure employees likely to work more than a 48-hour week have signed the opt-out from the Working Time Directive.
  • When you first suspect that circumstances might lead to a claim, notify your employer liability insurer.

Source: Weightmans solicitors

By Chris Druce

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