Stress at Work

Work related stress is widespread and is not confined to particular sectors or high risk jobs or industries.

Typical causes include poor communication between colleagues, skills not matching those that are needed for the job, and the demands of work exceeding the employee’s ability to cope. Stress is a state rather than an illness but when it becomes too excessive or goes on for too long, it can cause mental and physical illness, sometimes culminating in a disability.

Your employer has a duty of care toward you as an employee. Therefore your employer has a duty to ensure that it addresses any issues raised by you that are related to work-related stress.  Work related stress also falls under health and safety legislation. 

The way your employer tackles your stress depends on the kind of stress you are suffering from. For instance, if you are not sure of your role at work, your employer should make time to clarify what is expected of you, or if you feel you are being set unrealistic targets, and simply have too much to do which is causing you stress then your employer should listen to you and make adjustments to your work.  

However, there is often a tension here as the employee's view maybe that he or she is being put under unreasonable pressure, whereas the employer's view is that the employee should be able to handle the work set before them as it is what the employee has been employed to do.  The employer may perceive that the employee's own actions or inaction contribute to his or her stress such as poor time management or organisation and the employee's skills not being up to what they should. In these cases the employer may start a capability and performance improvement plan, which in turn may add to the the employee's stress.  Even if an employer has legitimate concerns about an employee's work performance the employer should still treat the employee with dignity and respect, even more so if it is arguably making the employee ill. 

Stress may also be caused by bullying in the workplace. If the bullying has sexual (including sexual orientation), religious or racial overtones, or is linked to your age or disability, then you have rights under the Equality Act and may have a claim for discrimination.  Also, if you have a disability which makes it harder for you to deal with issues, or more prone to suffering stress (eg depression), your employer has a duty to make certain adjustments to help you especially if your employer knows that you have suffered from mental health illnesses in the past. 

It is always advisable to raise a grievance relating to what you believe is causing your stress, and if the issue can’t be resolved through the grievance procedure, you may reach the point where your view is that your position has become untenable, thereby giving you a potential claim for constructive dismissal if you consequently leave your job.

As we have set out cases of work related stress often cross over into other areas such as performance management, long term sickness absence and grievances; because of this such cases must be handled carefully with full attention to the individual circumstances.  

If you believe you are suffering from workplace stress, Ashby Cohen can help you. Please contact us for an initial free consultation.

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