Workplace Stress and the Law

O2 Pay £110,000 To Stressed Worker! In a hearing at the Court of Appeal, telecoms giant O2 has been ordered to pay damages of nearly £110,000 to an accountant who suffered ill-health due to excessive working hours and demanding workload.

O2 Pay £110,000 To Stressed Worker! In a hearing at the Court of Appeal, telecoms giant O2 has been ordered to pay damages of nearly £110,000 to an accountant who suffered ill-health due to excessive working hours and demanding workload.

You have a legal obligation to manage stress in the workplace.

Health and Safety legislation states that employers must try to identify any problems that their organisation might be having with work-related stress, prevent accidents and ill-health and also to protect individuals from harm caused by stress.

The Health and Safety Executive defines stress as: "the reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demands placed on them. It arises when they worry that they cannot cope." In other words, stress occurs when the pressures on a person exceed their ability to deal with them.

As an employer/manager, you need to be aware of the following legal requirements:

Employers have an obligation under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (HASAWA) and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 to take appropriate steps to identify and manage stress at work. Employers are not required to eliminate all pressure in the workplace, but once there is an indication that an employee might be experiencing stress, steps should be taken to minimise the risk of harm to him/her.

Stress may also be caused by bullying, harassment and violence, therefore employers should also aim to provide a working environment that is, as far as is reasonably practicable, free from these influences.

The key factor is foreseeability. You are entitled to expect that employees can cope with normal pressures of the job unless you know of a particular problem. There are number of factors that will help determine whether harm is foreseeable or not, including:

  • Is the workload much more than is normal for the job?
  • Are the job demands unreasonable when compared with the demands made of others doing comparable work?
  • Are there signs that employees are suffering from stress, such as prolonged or repeated incidences of absence?
  • Are there any other non-work factors that may be contributing?

In addition you must give consideration to whether the employee’s health needs could be categorised as a disability. This will depend on individual circumstances and should be based on medical advice. If a medical report confirms this to be the case, as with other disabilities, employers should consider any reasonable adjustments which may be recommended.

As an employer, you need to consider risks and take account of an employee's medical history, traumatic events, bullying and complaints about health or overwork. If employees send in sick notes with the words "stress", “anxiety” or "depression" on them, then a discussion regarding the reasons of the absence should be discussed in detail in the return to work interview. Equally, if employees complain of stress then this should be taken seriously.

Being proactive will help your company keep in line with legislation and help prevent any lawsuits.

Want to find out more, check out the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) guide here

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is also a useful source of advice

Want to improve your processes when it comes to workplace stress? Contact us today on 0121 270 2000 or and we will happily send you some complimentary resources to get you started.

Katie attended the Peter Jones Enterprise Academy where she set up Altruist in 2013. Since then, Katie has won various awards including Birmingham Mail's Young Achiever of the Year 2017, New Entrepreneurs Foundation 'Future Face of Business' and Entrepreneurial Spark's 'Most Accelerated Business'. She has also been a finalist in nine other award categories and in 2014, Katie was invited to attend the prestigious 'Women of the Year Lunch' in honour of her work raising awareness and reducing the stigma attached to mental health.

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