Claims over work related stress - Legal Issues

Work related stress

The stress from work is a problem which affects a huge amount of employees working within England and Wales. Reportedly one in five people working in England and Wales suffer work related stress.

What is meant by work related stress?

Work related stress has been defined by the Health and Safety Executive as an adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other types of demands placed on them.

What is the problem with work related stress?

Many employees may work in high pressurised environments where they are expected to cope with the pressure and hassles of their everyday life. However, these is a fine balance in what can be tolerated by employees as in certain situations the pressures from everyday work can get too much. In this instance stress which occurs during work can end up with the individual suffering an illness as a result.

As an employer can I be under any form of legal challenge when one of my employees suffers an illness as a result of the pressures of work?

An employee who has suffered an illness as a consequence of the pressures being placed upon them can make a claim against their employer under the grounds of negligence.

What must an employee show to be successful in this claim?

An employee can claim against their employer on the grounds of negligence if they can prove the following factors:

  • That the employer owed a duty of care
  • That the employer has breached that duty of care – In order for an employer not to breach this duty of care the standard which they must reach is that of a reasonable and prudent employer, taking positive thought for the safety of their workers, in light of what the employer knows or ought to know
  • That the employee has suffered a physical injury (i.e. a heart attack which has been brought on by stress) or psychiatric injury which has been brought on by stress
  • That the injury was reasonably foreseeable

Is it possible for an employee to bring another legal claim as well as the negligence of the employer?

An employee may also bring a claim for unfair constructive dismissal.

In what circumstances will this occur?

An employee will also be able to bring a claim for unfair dismissal if that employee has raised a grievance with their employer but that grievance is not dealt with effectively by the employer.

As an employer do I have a duty to try and prevent work related stress caused by the pressures placed on my employees?

Under Regulation 3 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 a duty has been imposed on employers to carry out regular assessments of the potential risks to health and safety placed on all of their employees.

What is the reason for these assessments being undertaken?

The reason for these assessments being undertaken is for the employer to make a note of any of the potential risks to health and safety placed on their employees. Once these risks have been identified the employer should note how they impact upon the health of those people affected, removing or monitoring these effects.