Certain jobs can place heavy burdens of stress on an employee. Some are inherently stressful, such as high-pressure roles in the emergency services, but even relatively easy jobs have their moments.
In the eyes of many people, stress itself is a ‘nothing’ illness and simply a convenient excuse to avoid work. However, the health problems caused by severe stress (such as anxiety, fatigue, lack of sleep, nausea, weight loss and loss of appetite) can be debilitating and have serious consequences. Further connections are seen with work-related depression and other psychological illnesses.
Employer responsibilities to reduce stress
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.
In most cases, the employer is first placed on notice of concerns about potential damage to the health of an employee, as a result of the working conditions that the employee is being placed under. This gives the employer an opportunity to make alterations to the working conditions so that the cause of stress can be removed.
If an employer has been made aware of the problems, but has failed to take any action to reduce the risks to their employees’ health, they are likely to be liable for the stress-related illness suffered by an employee, should they pursue a claim for compensation.
Can you claim compensation?
If stress has left you unable to work, you may be wondering how to cope with a loss of wages and perhaps whether claiming compensation is an option.
The short answer to this question is yes, you can claim personal injury compensation for stress at work. More precisely, for the health problems it causes. However, you can only do so if the stress-related illness is severe enough to warrant making a claim and a medical diagnosis has been made.
There’s no black and white definition of what constitutes stressful work, as we’re all affected differently in a variety of situations. It boils down to ‘what is a personal injury‘ and an understanding of the same. 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 a genuine stress-related illness, caused by the conditions under which an employer has made you work, could be described as a personal injury, and if it can be shown that your stress is down to employer negligence, you have a very good chance of successfully claiming personal injury compensation. To find out more about what’s involved, I’d recommend reading our ultimate guide to claiming accident at work compensation.
Causes of stress-related illness
Typical working conditions that can lead to stress-related illness are:
- Bullying and harassment. This is defined by the government as behaviour that makes someone feel intimidated or offended. This can include unfair treatment, being picked on, undermined or blocked for progression, whether face-to-face, by letter, email or phone. Similarly, abuse, threats or excessive demands will lead to a stressful environment.
- Lack of support. If an employee is not given adequate support, assistance or guidance, they may well lack confidence, feel overwhelmed and under too much pressure.
- Workload. There is only so much work that any one person can undertake. If an employer is placing unrealistic demands on an employee, forcing them to work long hours, for example, stress-related illness is a likely outcome.
- Denial of employee rights. The rights of workers in the United Kingdom are enshrined in law, such as the right to rest periods, breaks and annual leave. If an employer denies these rights to their workers, they can be stressed and have low morale.
What action should you take?
Employees also have rights when they are injured physically or psychologically at work. For many people suffering stress at work, sorting out the situation informally would be the first step. If this isn’t possible, you can talk with your manager, HR department or trade union. If that doesn’t work, you can make a formal complaint to your employer. And if that doesn’t work, you should get some expert advice to see if you can take legal action and claim compensation.