Work-related stress rights (A brief guide)

In this guide, we will discuss the topic of work-related stress rights.

We will see what stress is considered, what you can do if you are feeling stressed due to work-related conditions, what are the employer’s duties and how they should mitigate and prevent the effects of stress among their employees.

Finally, we will discuss your legal right to make a claim and under which grounds.

Work-related stress rights

You may be wondering about work-related stress rights you may have as an employee suffering from stress or having become ill as a result.

It has been indicated how stress has become one of the most common reasons for employees to be absent from work, but many of them are not aware of their rights or their employer’s obligations.

Even though there is no specific law that talks specifically about work-related stress, employers do have duties under the Health and Safety Act which helps ensure the health, safety, and welfare of employees.

Moreover, aside from this fact, it seems that compensation claims for stress at work are becoming even more common.    

Employees also want to know ‘Does my employer have to give me time off for interviews?’

Employment Law solicitor Phillip Landau mentions “Typical causes of work-related stress are an overload of work, bullying, lack of support and a bad working environment. In some cases, your stress can be caused by outside influences such as bereavement, relationship issues, or a disability. A disability may be yours, or someone for whom you have caring responsibilities.”

Moreover, he recommends how no matter the cause of your stress, you need to make your employer aware of it because they can actually raise a successful defence if they can prove they were not aware of the situation.

Employees worry what to do when you are being squeezed out at work. But before that, you should be aware of the general employee rights mentioned.

What is considered stress?

You may have a job that is quite demanding of you and challenges you, putting more pressure than the one you can actually handle.

This is when excessive pressure causes an adverse reaction and ultimately becomes stress.

Even though stress is not considered an illness, and in fact, sometimes is regarded as beneficial, it can be detrimental not only for being capable of contributing to developing medical conditions such as high blood pressure or gastrointestinal problems, but also mental health illnesses such as anxiety and depression. 

However, we can’t leave aside the fact that there are stressful situations we live in on a daily basis outside of work such as a death in the family, an illness or financial issues, to name a few.

This means stress can potentially be everywhere but it becomes stress when our reaction to such events becomes unmanageable and too overwhelming.

If you are suffering from stress due to personal situations, you can also assk for your employers support.

What can I do if I am feeling work-related stress?

It is recommended to communicate your concerns or issues to your line manager or your HR manager.

In this stage, everything is still informal but it is recommended to confirm your discussion in writing and keep a copy in case your employer claims they were not aware because you never said anything to them.

Most likely, after hearing your concern or the issue you are having, they may attempt to review your job role and the initial job description to ensure you are actually either having the appropriate amount of workload.

If there is any training or support you need, they need to guarantee they will provide it.

After noticing no changes, you can raise a formal grievance following your employer’s procedures but many avoid going through this path, so just by asking for the procedure or the policy can make them rethink your problem.

For instance, they may consider your workload is too much and alleviate it by delegating responsibilities to other colleagues or if you are not getting enough participation or control over your work they may allow you to.

As an employee suffering from an immense level of stress, you can consider visiting your GP who can actually issue a fit note and sign you off work until you recover.

In the UK employees are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay or SSP for a maximum period of 28 weeks when being too ill to go to work.

In addition, if your employer has an occupational scheme, they may be willing to pay a bit more than the SSP.

Mitigation and prevention of stress

According to Ian Morris who has been involved in the management of personal injury claims for nearly 20 years, “All employers have a duty of care towards the health of their staff, which includes the prevention of stress-related illnesses. They must ensure that as much assistance, training, support and guidance is offered to staff as possible, so that stress at work can be avoided. If they don’t, they may be held liable should an employee pursue a claim against them.”

If an employee has made their employer aware of work-related stress but they fail to take any actions to reduce the risk, most likely they will be made liable for the personal injury to their employee if they do decide to claim for compensation.

He indicates how “Psychological health is treated the same as physical health, and therefore damage to your psychological well-being through stress is, in effect, a personal injury.”

If your employer is fully aware of the responsibilities they have when an employee is suffering from work-related stress instead of ignoring the situation, they may attempt to identify the foreseeable risks to your health as well as preventing any harm that could be a result of your work.

Do I have a legal right to make a stress claim?

Phillip Landau indicates that you do have the right to make a legal claim for stress against your employer.

However, he also indicated these are not easy claims to bring, but they do happen and many are successful where the claim can be either for personal injury or constructive dismissal.

“A personal injury claim would arise from the duty of care that employers have to their staff and to provide a safe system of work. You would have to have suffered a recognised psychiatric illness, such as clinical depression, and you would have to show this was caused by stress at work and no outside factors”.

Be aware that, through this type of claim you would need to show that it was reasonably foreseeable by your employer that you would develop a mental illness.

Furthermore, if your employer was made aware of the potential risk and they didn’t take any reasonable steps or made any adjustments to mitigate the risk, but they decided to be negligent towards your needs then they will become fully responsible. 

On the other hand, the other type of claim you can make is for constructive dismissal.

Landau recommends, “You would have to show that your employer is in breach of the term implied into every contract of employment to provide a safe system of work, and which has also led to a breach of the further implied term of mutual trust and confidence between employer and employee.”

If you live in Ontario, you should know how one can take stress leave in Ontario. Even if you don’t live there, you should still read about it, in order to gain some knowledge of how stress leaves are given generally.

Why is this blog about work-related stress rights important?

It is important to know about work-related stress rights an employee has but may not be aware.

Work-related stress is becoming a popular and increasing topic of discussion not only due to the personal cost due to the physical and mental conditions that can develop (i.e. high blood pressure, depression, etc.), but also businesswise.

Moreover, we can understand now why a work-related stress claim is important and under which circumstances an employee is able to claim.

Also, we have mentioned how employees have the duty to guarantee the health and safety of their employers.

This means their priority should be making sure they assess the risks and generate an action plan to either prevent them or mitigate their effect.

If they fail to do so, employees have the right to file a claim to get compensation.

Please feel free to leave any comments or thoughts about the content of this article!

Side Note: I have tried and tested various products and services to help with my anxiety and depression. See my top recommendations here, as well as a full list of all products and services our team has tested for various mental health conditions and general wellness.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about work-related stress rights

Can I be sacked for being off sick with work-related stress?

Yes, your employer is not obligated to keep your position open if you have been signed off work with stress.

However, most employers take some time before they can start the dismissal process, meaning they usually give the employer some time to recover and may attempt to make adjustments to your workplace so you can feel better. 

Can I have time off work for stress?

You can have time off work for stress.

If you are suffering from high-stress levels and it is becoming too overwhelming, get an appointment with your GP and be honest about how you are feeling and why you think you need some time off.

How much can I claim for work-related stress?

The amount of compensation you can claim for work-related stress will actually depend on the injuries you may have suffered as a result of being exposed to stress at work.

As indicated by simpsonmillar.co.uk “In the most severe cases, where there are significant financial losses, the compensation awarded could be over £100,000.”

How do you handle employees with work-related stress?

Handling employees with work-related stress may include having an informal discussion with the employee, be empathetic and ask about the reasons why they have been suffering from stress at work, carry out a stress risk assessment and try to come up with an action plan to help the employee.

What do I tell my doctor to get stress leave?

If you need to tell your doctor you need stress leave, just consider being honest and open about your symptoms, feelings, and thoughts on the situation.

Be as detailed as possible and listen when your doctor gives you their advice.

If you have been asked to schedule any follow-up appointments, make sure you attend.

References 

Morris, I. (2020, Feb.) Compensation claims for stress at work. Retrieved from direct2compensation.co.uk.

Nidirect.gov.uk: “Workplace stress”

Landaulaw.co.uk: “Stress at work”

Landau, P. (2010, Nov.) Dealing with workplace stress – your legal rights. Retrieved from theguardian.com.

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