The Dangers of ‘Work Related Stress’


…The Law:

There is no specific legislation which regulates stress in the workplace, but the employer still has a duty to his or her employees to prevent stress, under both the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. Both pieces of legislation regard the ‘health’ of an employee as including mental health, which is supported by civil law; the the first case where an employee received compensation for psychiatric damage as a result of work-related stress (Walker v Northumberland County Council) ruled that ‘there is no logical reason why risk of psychiatric damage should be excluded from the scope of the duty of care’.  A key point with work related stress is that for the employer to be in breach of their duty of care, the harm to an employee’s health needs to be foreseeable. The factors relevant in foreseeing psychiatric harm include:

  • the nature and extent of the work done by the employee, and;
  • signs from the employee of impending harm to health.

Another key case (Barber v Somerset County Council 2004) held that a first period of absence for work related stress was not deemed foreseeable, however following the first absence, the employer should have at least have made enquiries and considered what could have been done to help the employee on their return to work. In this case the employer did not act and the claimant was awarded £100,000 damages.   In view of the above, it is essential to be able to spot…


…The Signs:

 Depression  Low self-esteem, feeling tearful and not getting enjoyment  from life.
 Anxiety  Feeling on edge, feelings of dread, irritability, impatience and  restlessness.
 Eating Disorders  Binge eating, obsessively controlling weight loss or vomiting  after eating.
 Bipolar  Feeling depressed and low (self-doubting or depressed) and  quickly switching to feeling high and manic (full of energy,  distracted or irritated).
 Psychosis or   schizophrenia  Hallucinations, delusions, confused thoughts and lack of insight  or self-awareness.

…The Facts:

  1. 50–60% of all lost working days can be attributed to work-related stress
  2. The most common causes of work-related stress are: job insecurity (72%), long hours or excessive workload (66%,  being bullied or harassed at work (59%).
  3. More than a quarter of UK workers feel stressed at work all or most of the time
  4. 20% have been forced to take time off due to stress.


…The Solution:

The Equality Act 2010 requires employers to be flexible and make reasonable adjustments to enable people with disabilities to do their jobs, which also applies to employees with a substantial long-term mental (or physical) impairment, including work related stress.   Reasonable adjustments made have to, at the same time, be effective for the employee without being too disruptive, costly or impractical for the employer to provide. Examples include:

  1. A phased return to work
  2. Changing working hours
  3. Help with transport to and from work
  4. Home working
  5. Allowing absence for rehabilitation treatment
  6. Providing additional training
  7. Modifying instructions or reference manuals
  8. Modifying work patterns and management systems
  9. Arranging telephone conferences to reduce travel
  10. Providing a buddy, mentor, or closer supervision
  11. Reallocating work within the employee’s team
  12. Providing alternative work


When implementing adjustments an employer should take consideration of advice from an employee’s GP via their ‘fit note’ and draw up an adjustment agreement to ensure everyone is clear about what has been agreed.

Provision of a confidential helpline or counselling would also be a positive factor in assisting the employee in their return to work. Other, more obvious factors that would help include:

  • making sure the employee does not return to a full in-tray, lots of emails or a backlog of work
  • being realistic about workloads – some people will wish to prove themselves and may offer to take on too much, too soon
  • frequent informal chats provide an opportunity to discuss progress or problems without a formal (and possibly intimidating) meeting
  • avoid making the person feel they are a special case. This can cause resentment both with the individual and with their peers.


More Information

Visit our website for more News Updates


Healthy Workplaces Manage Stress.

(OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work)


How to tackle work-related stress: A guide for employers on making the Management Standards work

(HSE – Health and Safety Executive)