Dealing with workplace stress – Can you take sick leave?

Labour force surveys in 2018 showed that 595,000 workers in the UK suffer from work-related stress, depression or anxiety.

If you think that you may be experiencing workplace stress, hear what the employment solicitors at Foys have to say on what your rights are, and what steps you can take with regard to your employer.

What is workplace stress?

While every job comes with some level of pressure, workplace stress is any type of harmful reaction people experience from excessive demands placed on them at work. It can cause mental and physical problems like anxiety, depression, chronic fatigue or insomnia. When employees try to relieve the stress with alcohol, cigarettes, tranquillisers or other drugs, more serious health issues may arise. They may suffer ailments like heart disease or ulcers if the stress persists. Some factors that can trigger workplace stress include:

  • long hours and shift work;
  • lack of control or insecurity;
  • lack of job satisfaction, boredom or isolation;
  • hostile superiors or colleagues;
  • poor working environment such as noise, overcrowding and poor facilities;
  • low pay.

What are your employer’s responsibilities in regard to work stress?

While there is no specific law addressing workplace stress, employers are responsible for the general safety and well-being of their employees at the workplace under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 Act as well as under common law. This means that they have an obligation to:

  • identify foreseeable risks to the employee’s health;
  • prevent harm to their health that can be predictably caused by work;
  • consider any physical or mental disability that has a substantial or long-term effect on the employee’s ability to work.

All these legal obligations should cover an employee’s workplace stress problems, but you will need to bring your situation to the attention to your employer as soon as possible. Unless it is obvious, you should not assume that your employer is aware of your difficulties, and this may weaken any claim you may make against them in the future.

Steps you can take to address workplace stress

  • Speak to HR or a line manager. Do keep written or electronic records of your requests, even though you are at an informal stage. This will count towards evidence that you have brought your problem to the employer’s attention.
  • Seek clarification on your exact roles and responsibilities. This will help ascertain whether you are working in excess of the scope that your position calls for.
  • Ask for training or support for your overload at work.
  • See if new channels of communication or reporting structure can be set up. Regular work meetings may help here.
  • Failing all the above, file a formal grievance in accordance to the organisation’s HR policy.
  • Request a flexible working arrangement if this will alleviate your stress at work.

Your rights and remedies under the law:

  • Sick leave – If work stress is negatively affecting your health, you may want to visit a General Practitioner (GP) to apply for sick leave. You are legally entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) for a period of up to 28 weeks from your employer.
  • Personal injury claim – If you can demonstrate that you have suffered a recognised psychiatric illness such as clinical depression, as a result of work stress alone, you may bring a personal injury claim against your employer for failing in its duty of care to provide a safe work environment.
    In the event that you resign from your job as a consequence of workplace stress, you may bring a claim of ‘constructive dismissal’ where the employer was in breach of the terms of contract to provide a safe workplace.
  • Non-work related stress – If the source of your stress comes from outside the workplace, such as relationship problems, bereavement or physical disability, you should notify HR or your line manager. If the stress is serious enough to classify as a “disability”, you may qualify for protection under the Equality Act 2010, where the employer must make reasonable adjustments in the workplace to accommodate your condition.

Foys can help with employment law

If workplace stress takes a heavy toll on your well-being, you may choose to agree on a mutual termination of your employment on suitable financial terms with your employer. It is recommended that you seek professional advice from a qualified employment solicitor such as Foys before taking this step, as you are very likely to be asked to sign a settlement agreement setting out the full terms binding the two parties.

To find out how we can help you, fill out our Online Form – or call your local Foys Solicitors office:

  • Doncaster – 01302 327 136
  • Retford – 01777 703 100
  • Worksop – 01909 500 511
  • Clowne – 01246 810 050
  • Rotherham – 01709 375 561
  • Sheffield (Waterthorpe) – 0114 251 1702
  • Sheffield (Chapeltown) – 0114 246 7609

This post is not legal advice and should not replace professional advice tailored to your specific circumstances. It is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.

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