Workplace Stress & Employee’s Rights

stress-391654_1280A Labour Force Survey undertaken by the Health and Safety Executive showed that the stress in the workplace is still a huge issue in the UK. The Survey found that the total number of cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2013/2014 was 487,000 out of a total of 1,241,000 work-related illness cases – around 39%. This may not come as a surprise to most workers – who are used to a demanding work culture meaning that they often work without a break, work late into the evening, and in some cases, even work at the weekend.

Stress is a hard concept to define – as it usually means different things to different people. Some people define stress as pressure – but pressure is usually the thing that pushes people to excel and therefore demand a lot of themselves, which can lead to stress. Stress is probably most accurately described as a reaction that individuals have to excessive pressure placed on them – a reaction that is usually accompanied by a physical or psychological problem too. Some common symptoms of stress include insomnia, hair loss, panic attacks, and even struggling to complete basic everyday tasks.

There is no specific legislation that deals with stress as such, but the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) defines disability as: “a person has a disability for the purposes of this Act if he has a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.” So, if workplace stress causes anxiety or depression in an individual this may be classed as a mental impairment as it can cause loss of concentration, memory loss, and lack of understanding.

One issue with stress in the workplace is that many people who suffer from stress-related illnesses often feel unable to talk about it. Many employees feel that there is a stigma attached to admitting they are stressed, which may affect their career and promotion prospects. However, individuals cannot seek protection under the DDA unless their employee knows about the disability.

If you are suffering from stress at work, you must speak to your employer about it, so that you employer is aware of the position and can consider making ‘reasonable adjustments’ such as: flexible working arrangements, shorter working days, and set break times.

Employers should start taking action now to alleviate the impact that the mental wellbeing of their employees has on the business. Steps can be taken to alleviate existing stressful working environments before issues start appearing. For example, employees should encourage better work/life balances, with shorter working hours and could even introduce a time off in lieu policy if overtime is deemed necessary. A definite acknowledgement of the cost that mental health problems have on businesses, and therefore a move towards more progressive approaches to the care of employees, must be seen to benefit everyone involved for the long term.

If you have suffered workplace stress and want some help in establishing whether you have a claim, then please call Justine or Geraint at GO- Law on 01625 523 838 or email us on gowen@go-law.co.uk