Workplace stress is an increasing cause of absence from work on sick leave. Employers need to be aware of their obligations for stress suffered by their employees which may be caused or added to by the employee’s work.
Workplace stress is not a diagnosis. Rather it is a description of a situation which employees find themselves in as a result of pressure they are put under at work. Stress is a very subjective matter and employers are required to accept their employees as they find them (the “eggshell skull” syndrome). Therefore the matters that cause one employee stress may differ to those that cause stress to his colleagues. It is a question of if, as an employer, you knew or reasonably should have known of the stress your employee was suffering and took reasonable steps to provide the employee with a safe workplace and/or the tools to deal with that stress.
The Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 imposes a statutory duty on employers to provide a safe working environment. Case law has made it clear that the principle object of the Act is to prevent harm to employees at work. Harm includes illness and/or injury and physical and mental harm.
The obligation on an employer is not to protect against all stress, but rather to identify, minimise and where possible, eliminate hazards and respond to issues raised by employees. Providing a safe workplace is an implied term of every employment agreement and a failure to provide a safe working environment can form the basis of an unjustified disadvantage or constructive dismissal personal grievance.
If your employee informs you that they are suffering stress as a result of the work, working environment or that their work is compounding personal stress they are feeling, as an employer we recommend you take advice on your obligations and what possible steps you can take to ensure your employee has a safe environment.
If you have any concerns about your employees or alternatively queries as to your obligations to provide a safe working environment for your employees do not hesitate to contact one of our lawyers to discuss it further.