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Workplace Stress And Why It Still Matters

Wellington Employment Relations SIG - Presentation by Susan Hornsby-Geluk, Partner at Chen Palmer


Employers became aware of the potentially devastating effects and cost of workplace stress in the early 2000's when Mr Gilbert, a Probation Officer, successfully established that his employer not only had a contractual duty to take all practicable steps to provide a safe workplace, but also proved that the stress he suffered, and subsequent harm resulting from that stress, amounted to a breach of his employment agreement. In 2010, thirteen years after Mr Gilbert's 1997 resignation, the Court of Appeal was still dealing with disputes about exactly how much money Mr Gilbert was owed. However, the legacy of Mr Gilbert's 13 year legal battle is far reaching. The case raised awareness of the obligations an employer owes to its employees in relation to workplace stress.

Workplace stress, and the resulting claims, continue to be a significant issue for employers. Although 10 years have passed since workplace stress first became a hot topic, employers should not become complacent about the potential liability which can arise from a workplace stress claim. The remedies available in a workplace stress claim can be significantly higher than they would be in your average unjustified dismissal claim. With the economic pressures facing many New Zealand households, and the emotional strain of events such as the Christchurch earthquake, the risks associated with an employee crying 'stress' continue to be substantial, and employers must be well prepared to manage these claims when they arise.

This presentation covers:

  • What a workplace stress claim is and why, as an employer, you should be concerned when you get one.
  • The development of the case law since Gilbert, including the Rosenberg v Air NZ case.
  • How to manage your employees, and continue employment processes in the face of a 'workplace stress' claim. In particular, what you can do when an employee who is being performance managed or is subject to a disciplinary process, claims to be 'stressed'.

View presentation slides


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