Magazine article New Zealand Management

De-Stressing Prosecution Risks

Magazine article New Zealand Management

De-Stressing Prosecution Risks

Article excerpt

The first criminal prosecution under the Health & Safety in Employment (HASIE) Act highlights some of the misconceptions around what constitutes "workplace stress" and why employers shouldn't get too stressed about the expanded Act's implications.

Kensington Swan partner Clayton Kimpton says that while the prosecution proved successful, a recent judgment against Nelson company Nalder & Biddle resulted from a "fairly rare scenario". An employee, hired in August 2003 as a financial assistant, was shunted into managing the accounts department following the sudden resignation of her two superiors.

A couple of months later, the employee informed her CEO that she was suffering stress-related chest pains and was on medication. The firm agreed to hire two assistants. But the assistants needed to be trained.

Another month passed and a further meeting with the CEO resulted in an agreement to hire a qualified accountant in December '03. The employee was placed on stress leave in January but was forced to attend an important meeting at the end of that month. She took further stress leave and medical investigations concluded that her condition was directly related to stress in her employment.

"The issue in Nalder & Biddle was that the employer knew of and acknowledged the problem of the employee's stress, yet failed to alleviate the stress prior to the injury occurring," says Kimpton. In other words the employer failed to take all practicable steps--as required under the HASIE Act. …

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