Stress at work – What does the law say?

Common law says that employers are responsible for the general safety of their employees while they are at work. In addition, employers have to comply with a number of statutes, such as:

  • The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, states that employers have a duty to ensure that, as far as is reasonably practicable, their workplaces are safe and healthy. They also have to take measures to control any risks that they identify.
  • The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, state that employers must carry out a workplace risk assessment to identify any potential risks. Any measures they take to control the risks must be based on this assessment.

Employees may also be able to rely on the following statutes if they want to bring a claim of stress at work, depending on the circumstances:

  • Under the disability discrimination provisions of the Equality Act 2010, stress may turn out to be the sign of an underlying condition that would amount to a disability. Under the Act, employers are required to make reasonable adjustments to the workplace, such as reducing an employee’s workload or pressures on an employee who is under stress.
  • HSE Management Standards and supporting guidance aim to help and encourage employers to meet their legal obligations. This lists the 6 main causes of stress as being; demands, control, support, relationships, role and change.

In practice – Some considerations that an employer and employees should make:

  • Monitor factors that might suggest there is a problem with stress-related illness in the business
  • Ensure there is a health and safety policy that addresses the issue of stress in the workplace
  • Ensure effective risk assessments have been carried out, are monitored regularly and any recommendations are being implemented and adequately funded
  • Plan for stress-related risks when embarking on significant organisational change
  • Managers should monitor and address potential sources of stress
  • Managers should provide information to employees about stress-related illnesses and their obligations to inform management about risks at work
  • Identify what medical and other evidence is required to determine whether the employee may have a disability within the meaning of the Disability Discrimination Act
  • Managers should report their concerns to appropriate senior personnel while maintaining any obligations of confidentiality
  • Employees should inform their employer if they feel the pressure of the job is putting them or if anyone else at risk of ill health and suggest ways in which the work might be organised to alleviate the stress
  • Employees should inform their employer if they are suffering from a medical condition that appears to be long-term and is affecting their ability to carry out day to day tasks, including memory and learning. The should discuss any reasonable adjustments that could be made to assist them in performing their job

Please note – This is a brief summary of some of the law in this area, however, this is a complex and fast moving topic, so you should not rely on this information as a comprehensive statement of the law. Individuals should always seek legal advice relevant to the particular circumstances they are experiencing.

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