The case of Hammond v INTC Network Services Ltd , concerned issues relating to vicarious liability where a claimant complained that the defendant’s conduct causing him to suffer clinical depression. The claimant in this case was employed by the defendant until he was eventually made redundant.
The claimant was suffering from clinical depression which he maintained had been caused principally by the conduct of the defendant, its employees or agents. He alleged that this was either negligent or amounted to harassment contrary to the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 (“the Act”).
The claimant made a number of allegations in relation to the employer’s conduct that he argued amounted to harassment. The conduct in question included the fact that he had been moved to another part of a project for a week.
In response to the defendant’s reliance on contemporaneous documents, the claimant asserted that the documents had either been forged or altered.
The court, in applying settled principles, held that conduct had to have an element of real seriousness in order to amount to harassment under the Act. The conduct had to be deemed to be oppressive and unacceptable. If interpretation of the law meant that employers were faced with allegations of harassment every time that they made an operational decision, the commercial world would grind to a halt.
Furthermore, the court felt that it was important in a negligence claim concerned with workplace stress that in order for an employer to be liable it had to be demonstrated that the employer knew (or ought to have known) that the employee would not be able to withstand the pressure of the job.
The court further felt that the documents were genuine contemporaneous documents, and were the best evidence of the defendant’s conduct at the time in question. They established that the events leading up to the employee’s redundancy either did not happen at all, or were the result of reasonable management decisions. The court therefore stated that this case was the complete opposite of harassment. Accordingly in such circumstances neither claim could be allowed to succeed. In addition, and in relation to the claim for negligence, the claimant had not shown that his disorder had been foreseeable by the defendant. As a result, the court dismissed the claims.