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Stress At Work - What Can I Do About It?

By Solicitor, Employment

Work related stress is often the result of excessive pressures or demands made at work. It can also arise from bullying, heavy workloads, poor treatment or bad working conditions.

Stress can have many symptoms including depression, anxiety, insomnia and fatigue as well as some serious psychological conditions.

Sadly I often see clients who are suffering with work related stress or mental illness. It can be an incredibly difficult time and many people often don’t know who to confide in, whether they should speak up or what their rights are when it comes to their employer.

What are my rights?

Employers have a legal obligation to take reasonable care for the safety of their employees – including their mental health.

What can I expect of my employer?

The steps an employer may take will depend on the particular circumstances and the nature of an employee’s illness.

In some circumstances employers will have a duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees. For someone suffering from stress, depression or anxiety this could be reducing their hours, changing start and finish times, reducing their workload or moving them to work with different colleagues.

When the condition was largely caused by work, employers can be asked to fund specific private psychiatric treatment and counselling recommended by an expert. This would work to helping them return to work and cope with any work-related difficulties.

There is also a general statutory duty on employers to carry out health and safety risk assessments under Health and Safety Regulations.

The Health and Safety Executive also has management standards in order to measure how effective work-related stress is managed within different organisations.

How can I approach my employer if I have a problem?

It is important to tell someone and not assume that your employer can tell you are struggling.

Sometimes specific policies will be in place to deal with stress and mental health at work so be aware of the procedures and support available to you.

An employee can approach their manager and explain they are struggling. One of the most important things is for employers to handle such issues sensitively. I would expect the manager to be sensitive and consider solutions or support mechanisms.

However this can be tricky if the cause of stress related to the manager. In those cases consider whether you can confide in other senior team members or HR.

If someone has taken time off work because of stress there might also be a need to refer to occupational health for recommendations and medical advice.

Again check whether your employer has specific policies and procedures in place regarding sickness absence.

When might there be cause for legal action?

An employer could potentially be in breach of an implied term of mutual trust and confidence. This could in turn trigger constructive dismissal if the employee feels they have been treated so badly and pushed to resign. It could also lead to a claim for personal injury based on negligence or breach of the employer’s duty to provide a safe workplace.

Someone suffering from a mental illness may also be protected under disability discrimination laws under the Equality Act 2010 if the illness has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal daily activities.

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