Laura Binnie and Jennifer Scott, in Blandy & Blandy LLP’s leading employment law team, discuss stress in the workplace and the claims that can be made by an employee against their employer for work-related stress.
According to a recent study, the average worker will spend 1,791 hours a year working. It is no surprise that as we spend the majority of our time at work, work-related stress can be a real issue for both employees and employers, having a domino effect on finances, reputation and efficiency.
What is stress?
There is no medical definition of stress however the Health and Safety Executive defines it as “the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them”. Although being under pressure is an unavoidable norm of everyday life, issues arise when the scale is tipped to harmful levels of pressure caused by work related issues – resulting in work-related stress.
What is the cost of stress to employers and employees?
An example of the hidden financial issues caused by work-related stress can be seen in a recent journal article investigating the cost of bullying to the NHS. “Sickness absence costs to the employer, employee turnover, diminished productivity, sickness presenteeism, compensation, litigation and industrial relations costs” are estimated to cost the taxpayer £2.281 billion per annum.
Stress in the work place often leads to similar issues and consequently similar losses. Employers may therefore see these adverse trends in their finances caused from stress suffered by their employees. Employees can also experience the financial burden due to stress related sickness causing them to rely on statutory sick pay, currently at a rate of £94.25 per week, in the absence of more generous sick pay/occupational schemes.
What claims can be brought for work-related stress?
An employee suffering with work-related stress may be able to bring the following claims:
This is a claim under the law of negligence. An employee may allege that their employer has breached their duty of care; they may also rely on a breach of an employer’s duty to carry out a risk assessment of stress-related ill health due to work activities and an omission of the employer in taking measures to control such risks.
Breach of contract and constructive dismissal
An implied term of mutual trust and confidence exists between an employer and an employee. An employee suffering from work-related stress may argue that their employer has breached their contractual duties. This can give rise to a claim for constructive dismissal, when an employee resigns but their resignation can be regarded as a dismissal because of the employer’s poor conduct (entitling them to compensation).
An employee who has been on sick leave due to stress and is subsequently dismissed may be able to bring a claim for unfair dismissal if they have at least two years’ continuous service. This claim is based on the employer having no fair reason to dismiss the employee and/or the employer failing to follow a fair process.
Work-related stress can be linked to conditions such as anxiety and depression which can have a substantial and enduring effect on an employee’s daily activities. This can often amount to a disability under the Equality Act 2010 enabling an employee to bring a discrimination claim against their employer, if they are treated less favourably at work or not afforded reasonable adjustments.
If you are suffering with work-related stress or believe an employee of yours may be suffering with work-related stress contact Blandy & Blandy’s leading employment law team for advice on the best way to move forward.