Intel Corporation (UK) Ltd v Tracy Ann Daw

The House of Lords said in Hatton v Sutherland (2002) that employers who provide employees with a counselling service are unlikely to be found in breach of their duty of care in the event of a negligence claim.

In Intel Corporation (UK) Ltd v Tracy Ann Daw, the Court of Appeal said that did not mean they were a "panacea" in all cases.

Basic facts

Tracy Daw worked for Intel Corporation from May 1988 until June 2001, during which time she progressed from the position of finance assistant to Mergers and Acquisitions Payroll Integration Analyst, a complex and intricate job. She was considered an "outstanding" employee.

She suffered from two periods of post natal depression in 1995 (when she was absent for about four months) and 1998 (when she was off for just under a year). She visited the company’s counseling service during the first bout; and during the second period was given psychiatric community care.

In September 2000, her workload became considerably heavier and peaked in March 2001. During that time, she protested at least 14 times to her employer about the problems she was facing. In early March 2001, her manager found her in tears and asked her to write down the problems in detail.

On 20 March she was told that the team would be reorganized and an additional employee taken on. This did not, however, materialize and her health deteriorated. She saw her own doctor again in May and the company doctor on 7 June. She saw her GP again a week later when she was signed off work. She left work on 15 June and tried to commit suicide the next day.

Decision of High Court

The High Court judge accepted that the company did not know that Ms Daw was susceptible (as a result of the post natal depression) to work related depression. Prior to March 2001, therefore, a reasonable employer could not have foreseen that there was "a real risk of injury" to her health.

However, the company ought to have known by early March 2001 that the demands it was making were "totally unreasonable and that the risk of harm to her health was clear". Had the company done what was needed at that point, her breakdown would probably have been prevented.

As far as providing a counseling service was concerned, the judge said that it could not reduce her workload; the most it could do was to advise her to see her doctor.

He awarded her damages of over £134,000. The company appealed the judge’s decision on both liability and quantum (the amount awarded) for her future loss of earnings.

Decision of Court of Appeal

The Court of Appeal agreed with the High Court judge, saying that management failures had created the stresses that led to Ms Daw’s breakdown. By early March, it was not difficult to foresee that her health would suffer.

As far as offering a counselling service was concerned, the Court agreed with the judge that the problems of this "capable and loyal employee" could only be dealt with by reducing her workload. Given the number of times she had protested about the overwork, the company should have taken urgent action when it got her memo in early March 2001.

The Court held that although the House of Lords stated in Hatton v Sutherland that employers who offer a counseling service are unlikely to be found in breach of duty, that did not mean they were a "panacea" in all cases.

The company could not avoid its obligations, therefore, by providing counsellors “who might have brought home to management that action was required. On the judge's findings, the managers knew it was required.”

Quantum

The company also challenged the judge’s decision that Ms Daw was entitled to loss of earnings beyond 2006.

However, the Court agreed with the judge’s assessment that although there was a 50 per cent chance that she would have another episode of depression by 2006, it would probably not be as serious as this one. She would, therefore, be likely to have periods of employment after 2006 and it dismissed the company’s appeal.