Work-related stress can be generally defined as an adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them at work. Read on for more information on an employer’s duties to employees and what an employee might do if they feel they are suffering from work-related stress.
What causes work-related stress and how do you recognise it?
Stress can be caused by many factors, for example overwork, bullying, lack of support from colleagues or unhappy relationships at work. You might feel that you have lost control at work or are unable to perform your role well. You might feel negative about work and colleagues. You may feel exhausted or withdrawn and may have taken time off work as a result.
What are your employer’s duties?
Your employer is entitled to expect that you can cope with the normal pressures of your role, but should take reasonable steps to identify significant and foreseeable risks to your health and prevent any harm that is foreseeable and caused by work. In considering what is a foreseeable risk your employer might consider whether your workload and the demands on you are normal for the role, whether you are displaying signs of stress and whether you have a disability which might have a substantial or long-term effect on your ability to work.
If you inform your employer that feel you are suffering from stress or are finding it difficult to cope, they should intervene and take reasonable steps to address that.
Is work-related stress an illness or a disability?
Stress is a reaction or a response and will not normally amount to an illness or disability itself, but it may lead to or trigger an illness. The effects of stress can manifest themselves in both mental conditions such as anxiety and depression and physical health problems such as heart disease. If you have a condition which affects your ability to carry out normal day to day activities and which has lasted, or is expected to last, for at least a year, it may be classed as a disability under the Equality Act 2010. If you have a disability, your employer must take care not to discriminate against you on grounds of your disability. They may need to consider reasonable adjustments to your working conditions.
What should I do if I am suffering from work-related stress?
Perhaps the first thing to do is to raise the issue informally with your line manager or HR department if you have one. On being made aware of the issue, your employer should review things and offer support. This might be reducing your workload (if found to be too high), offering training or regular meetings or considering flexible working arrangements.
If you still feel that nothing has been done about your situation, you may wish to raise a formal grievance. Your employer should have a grievance policy for you to follow.
In addition, you may benefit from some time off if the stress has become so much it is affecting your health. If you are not well enough to attend work, you GP can sign you off until you have recovered fully.
Could I be dismissed for absence caused by work-related stress?
Your employer is not obliged to keep your job available indefinitely. If you have a long-term sickness absence it is possible for your employer to dismiss you if they consider that you are no longer capable of carrying out your role. However, they must first carry out a fair process which will include investigating the underlying reasons for your absence, obtaining medical advice and considering what reasonable adjustments could be made to get you back to work.
If your employer finds no genuine reason for your absence or if no reasonable adjustments can be made to facilitate your return to work, your employer might be justified in dismissing you, either by reason of conduct or capability.
Will I have any claims due to work-related stress?
The following claims may be relevant:
Unfair dismissal – if you are dismissed due to absence caused by work-related stress but, for example, there was no fair process carried out.
Discrimination – if you are disabled for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010 you are protected from disability discrimination and harassment.
Personal injury – if your employer breaches its duty to take reasonable care of your health and safety and it causes you injury which is reasonably foreseeable.
Breach of contract – if your employer’s breach of an express or implied term in your contract of employment has caused you stress. This may also lead to a claim of constructive unfair dismissal.
If your work-related stress is such that you no longer see a future with your employer, it might be possible to negotiate an exit. Usually this will see you leaving with a financial settlement and reference in exchange for which you will agree not to pursue a tribunal or court claim against your employer. You are strongly urged to take legal advice before you approach your employer about an exit package or agree terms. In order for a settlement to be an attractive proposition for your employer they will need to be convinced that there is a legal and practical basis for this. If an agreement is reached you will almost certainly be asked to sign a settlement agreement on which you will need to take legal advice in any event.
Can we help you?
If are struggling with stress at work, please contact one of our specialist employment law solicitors for a no obligation, free consultation on 01522 440512. Alternatively, visit our website at https://lincslaw.co.uk/services/employees/ for more details on how we can help you.
Specialist Employment Law Solicitor
LincsLaw Employment Solicitors