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Disciplining your more vulnerable employeesDisciplining your more vulnerable employees

» Posted on: 2 December 2014

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In a recent case heard by the Court of Appeal, Yapp v FCO, the court considered to what extent psychiatric injury should be foreseeable before an employer can be held liable for psychiatric injury.

Mr Yapp was appointed as British High Commissioner for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, stationed in Belize. A year after his appointment he was suspended pending an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct. A lengthy disciplinary process ensued which resulted in a written warning and he lost his post with attendance allowances and benefits. Mr Yapp developed a depressive illness and underwent heart surgery. He did not receive any other appointment in the FCO and never returned to work and in due course, he retired.

Mr Yapp complained about the way in which the disciplinary process was conducted. He was removed without having the opportunity to state his case and he said that the resultant stress caused the depressive illness, which both constituted damage in itself and led to financial losses.

The Court of Appeal decided that it was wrong to find that the FCO's conduct might lead him to develop a psychiatric illness and found that the FCO could not have foreseen that, in the absence of any special sign of vulnerability, Mr Yapp might develop a psychiatric illness as a result of its decision.

The learning point from this case is that if an employer is aware of a special vulnerability that an employee has towards depressive or psychiatric weakness, consideration should be given to whether the disciplinary or other process should be adjusted in some way to alleviate the risk of injury.

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