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Damages not available for depressive illness following withdrawal from post

The Court of Appeal has considered whether an employee was entitled to recover damages for a depressive illness resulting from the withdrawal from his post.

In Yapp v Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) the Court of Appeal has upheld the High Court’s decision that there was a breach of the employee’s contract when the FCO withdrew him from his post as High Commissioner of Belize following allegations of sexual misconduct and bullying. No investigation was carried out prior to the withdrawal and Mr Yapp was not given an opportunity to respond to the allegations against him.

The FCO contended that the allegations against Mr Yapp made his position “operationally untenable”. 


Mr Yapp’s suspension was lifted following resolution of the disciplinary process. However, Mr Yapp remained off sick with depression. In May 2011, Mr Yapp commenced proceedings against the FCO for breach of contract and a breach of duty of care following his withdrawal from office. The High Court found in favour of Mr Yapp for the majority of his claims but held that the disciplinary process was conducted fairly. The FCO appealed to the Court of Appeal arguing that it had not acted in breach of his contract by withdrawing him from his post and that there was no medical evidence to suggest that Mr Yapp was vulnerable to developing a psychiatric illness. The FCO’s appeal was dismissed save that the Court of Appeal held that the appeal in relation to remoteness was allowed.  


Despite the finding by the Court of Appeal it ruled that Mr Yapp’s depressive illness which ensued as a result of the withdrawal was not reasonably foreseeable. There was no prior awareness of a susceptibility to stress. It is clear that in some circumstances, there is scope for a robust employee to suffer some depression as a result of such a serious decision. However, the Court of Appeal held that this was not the case here. 


This case deals with stress resulting from the withdrawal from post rather than a culmination of events including an excessive workload. Each case will depend on its own facts  but the tests remain the same regardless of whether the event was a one-off. 

 

Posted in: Employment

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