Stress at Work – the basics

Site updated on August 5, 2016

Many employees are currently claiming that they are suffering from “stress”. On occasions newspaper headlines draw our attention to large awards of compensation to an employee who has become ill because of their work or working conditions. However the large awards are fairly rare and many claims fail for a range of reasons. You do not usually go to an Employment Tribunal with a stress at work claim. You need to take your case to a civil court, and that it is called a Personal Injury claim for damage to health.

Tribunals can listen to claims of constructive dismissal if you have been forced to leave your employment due to Stressful conditions. Tribunals will also listen to complaints of Disability Discrimination under the Equality Act if your illness amounts to a disability. For further help on this refer to the section on Disability Discrimination.

The Health and Safety Executive has issued some guidelines on this difficult topic, it is possible that your Employer is not aware of their obligations.

You should seek help and advice when you start to feel that you can no longer cope with the demands placed on you. Do not wait until you become ill before acting! If you do not raise your concerns with your Employer this is likely to make it difficult in future to say your Employer has been negligent.

Talk to your Doctor, or see the Occupational Health advisor at your firm at an early stage. Employers are now recognising that this is a health and safety issue and hopefully you will get support and advice. Some employers have a stress policy which will make it clear what actions you should take. Check your Company Handbook for a stress policy.

A number of employers now invest in “Employee Assistance Programmes”, a form of employee counseling service, usually by phone, but sometimes these include face to face help. If your employer has this facility – take advantage of it if you have any problems you are struggling to cope with.

There is no doubt that many workers feel under more pressure than before, but pressure is not the same as stress. You have to prove that you have a clinically recognised illness, which is not the same as having “stress”. You may need to see a clinical specialist to confirm that you have an identifiable illness. Stress related illnesses can be caused by a range of factors, some of them work related, eg. long hours; working 7 days a week; noise; bad working conditions; bullying/harassment; a hazardous/dangerous environment are just some examples.

If you are being asked to work long hours, is your Employer aware of the Working Time Regulations? These place a limit on the hours you can be required to work, unless you have voluntarily agreed to opt out of this and work longer hours.

Obviously not all stress problems are caused by work – personal factors also come into consideration.

In the first instance you should try to talk to your Manager about the problem. This may not be easy in some Companies as admitting that you are suffering from stress may appear to be a sign of weakness. More enlightened firms will offer support and guidance. It is very important to make your employer aware that you are struggling at work. If you do not do this you are unlikely to obtain any compensation in the future. This is because any compensation you receive is based on the fact that your employer was negligent. If your employer cannot have known that you were ill, they cannot really be negligent. If you feel unable to talk to your Manager, seek assistance from a health and safety or union rep. or consider using the Company Grievance procedure.

If you wish to get further advice, Contact our Advice Line.

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