Stress is now one of the most common causes of long-term absence from work; but what is ‘work-related stress’ and what are your employer’s responsibilities if you are suffering with it. Read on for more information.
What is ‘work-related stress’?
Work-related stress is generally defined as “the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them at work”.
It may not amount to an illness in itself but may give rise to mental health conditions such as depression or physical conditions such as heart disease.
There may be many causes of stress in the workplace such as:
• Unmanageable workloads and/or demands
• Poor relationships with management and/or colleagues
• Lack of training and/or support from colleagues
What are your employer’s responsibilities?
Employers have a duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of all their employees. They should identify the potential causes of mental ill health in the workplace and consider how those causes can be prevented or managed. For example, your employer might:
• implement a stress at work policy which sets out how employees can raise concerns;
• train managers to identify symptoms of stress and how to manage stress;
• identify any underlying stress-related reason for absence or poor performance.
What steps should you take if you are suffering with work-related stress?
If you’re suffering with stress you should consider raising this informally with your line manager or HR department if you have one. If your employer has a stress at work policy this may provide you with guidance on how to raise your concerns. Your employer should review your workload and provide support where possible. This may include providing training, having regular meetings or possibly arranging flexible working.
You may wish to raise a formal grievance if, having raised the issue informally, you feel that nothing has been done to help you.
What claims might a stressed employee bring?
An employee suffering with work-related stress might have one or more of the following claims:
An employee would need to show that:
• their employer has breached the duty of care owed to them;
• this has caused the employee injury;
• injury of that type was reasonably foreseeable.
Breach of contract
It is an implied term of every employment contract that the employer will take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of its employees at work. This includes a duty to take reasonable care not to cause psychiatric harm to an employee by reason of the working environment or the volume of work imposed on them. If the employer breaches this duty the employee may have a claim for breach of contract.
An employee may also seek to bring a claim of constructive unfair dismissal if the behaviour of their employer has resulted in psychiatric injury, causing them to resign.
An employee who has been signed off with stress and who is then dismissed may be able to bring a claim for unfair dismissal.
That is not to say that an employee cannot be dismissed for long-term sickness absence or if they are no longer capable of carrying out their role, but the employer will have to carry out a fair process in doing so.
If an employee’s stress (and related conditions) have a substantial and long-term effect on their day to day activities, this may amount to a disability giving rise to protection under the Equality Act 2010.
If an employee is discriminated against, directly or indirectly, because of their disability or because of something arising from their disability they may have a claim for disability discrimination.
Employers are obliged to make reasonable adjustments where any “provision, criterion or practice” applied by the employer places the disabled person at a substantial disadvantage when compared with a non-disabled person. Reasonable adjustments might include a reduction in working hours or reallocation of excessive work.
How can LincsLaw help?
If you would like specific advice on dealing with stress in the workplace please contact us on 01522 440512 or 01522 440515 (direct dial) or visit our website at www.lincslaw.co.uk.
Specialist Employment Solicitor
Lincs Law Employment Solicitors