Deutsche Bank and Helen Green

Posted by Jan Lawrence

Deutsche Bank v Helen Green, August 06


Helen Green who was employed in the secretarial division of Deutsche Bank, claimed her ex-colleagues bullied her into a nervous breakdown. Ms Green has never returned to work and has been awarded £828,000 in damages and lost earnings: £35,000 for pain and suffering, £25,000 in respect of her disadvantage in the labour market, £128,000 for past loss of earnings and about £640,000 for future loss of earnings including pension. The bank will also have to pay her legal costs.

Ms Green said that the bank had failed to protect her from abusive colleagues and tolerated a culture of bullying. She sued Deutsche Bank’s DB Group Services unit in London for harassment and negligence.

Justice Robert Owen at the High Court in London backed her claim, saying that her line managers possibly were aware or certainly should have been aware that this was going on. Ms Green was subjected to a ‘relentless campaign of mean and spiteful behaviour designed to cause her distress.’ He also pointed out that this was a long-standing problem and not an isolated case of bullying and that the bank’s management was ‘weak and ineffectual.’

Deutsche Bank denied any wrong-doing and said it paid for stress counselling and other therapy for Ms Green while she was employed. The group now face a payout of more than £1m in damages and costs.

A senior source at the bank is reported to have stated that the claims were investigated at the time but no disciplinary action was taken against any of Ms Green’s colleagues.

Personal Injury and Protection from Harassment

Ms Green brought her claim principally as a personal injury claim, but she also relied on the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, the legislation introduced to deal with stalkers.

In the case of Majrowski v Guys and St Thomas NHS Trust, the House of Lords confirmed that an employer can be vicariously liable for harassment by it’s employees in breach of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, giving employees another route to bring a claim against employers for harassment at work.

The fact that Deutsche Bank paid for stress counselling was not seen to be enough. Similar conclusions were drawn in the case of Tracy Daw in 2006, an HR professional who worked for Intel UK, she was awarded more than £114,000 by the High Court after she became so stressed at work she had a nervous breakdown. Daw won the case despite Intel offering free counselling to staff who felt stressed.

Will an EAP protect an employer?

In Equilibrium gave the following answer to this important question:

“Many employers think that an EAP or counselling service will cover them, but in a civil case, a court will look at the individual circumstances of the case i.e. what makes the risk foreseeable.

For example, if the employee had already shown signs of vulnerability and the causes of her stress were clearly related to work pressures or working environment, it would not be sufficient to simply point her in the direction of the counselling service as that would not address the cause(s) of her problems. In this situation, the employer should take steps to identify / clarify what is causing her stress problems, discuss this with her, agree an action plan (which would normally contain adjustments and supports), and implement, monitor and review the agreed actions. That is, they should assess and manage stress risks for an individual once it becomes apparent that they are vulnerable. Here, the responsiveness / support would demonstrate a duty of care, and the risk assessment would meet the employers obligations under the Management of Health and Safety Regulations.

A counselling service helps demonstrate a duty of care generally, but is insufficient as an organisational response in cases where stress is clearly related to (in particular, preventable and excessive) work pressures or aspects of the working environment. An obvious example would be clearly excessive workload demands / working hours. If an employer / management stood by while a department was clearly understaffed and overloaded to the point where employees became ill and clearly unable to cope, the risk is likely to be seen as foreseeable. Wealthy, profitable and large employers are going to be more vulnerable and the courts less sympathetic, as it is very difficult for them to demonstrate that they could not afford to hire more staff / bring in temps / use more resources / conduct stress risk assessments.”