We’re probably all very aware of how prevalent stress is, but to put it into focus: The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) report that the total number of cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2020/21 was 822,000, a prevalence rate of 2,480 per 100,000 workers.

“Stress” is a natural reaction in our body, part of our evolved ability to deal with threats or pressure, that helps keep us alive. When stressed, the body releases stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline. Some stress is natural, and healthy.

Stress is a term that often gets misused and over-used, but in the legal sense you should be aware of the definition used by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE): “an adverse reaction experienced in response to external pressures or demands” – although stress alone is not an illness it can lead to mental or physical illness.

Employers have a legal duty to protect employees from stress at work by doing a risk assessment and acting on it. Think of stress at work as similar to a ‘physical’ hazard in the workplace that you would risk assess and mitigate, like machinery or chemicals or heights. If an employee brings concerns to your attention, particularly where they state there is a danger to their health, you must act.

There are various causes of stress at work, but once identified to you, you will need to assess the relevant factors to take effective action to remove the stressors, where possible, to prevent a repetition or impact on the employee. Stress risk assessments are likely to be part of this. Our Employment team are experienced in advising employers in this regard. Do also watch our video: https://tinyurl.com/yb5kpk2s

If you have five or more workers, you are required by law to write your stress risk assessment down. The HSE have some useful guidance that can help employers in small businesses.

What else can employers do?

Our recent article on World Mental Health Day includes some suggestions on what you can do to support your employees with mental health more generally.

The ongoing ‘cost of living crisis’ presents a real challenge for both employees and employers through the soaring costs of everyday essentials and the reduction in disposable income. According to a recent Office for National Statistics survey (ONS) 77% of UK adults reported being worried, “nearly every day” about the rise in cost of living, and it is inevitable that some of that worry crosses over into the workplace. In this article we explore whether employers should be helping employees with the cost of living crisis.

Acting for both employers and employees, we understand the issues of sickness absence due to stress from both viewpoints. For example we regularly advise both employer and employee clients on:

  • Managing long-term (or short-term frequent) sickness absence due to stress
  • Dealing with a formal capability process
  • Advising on the degree of protection afforded by the law, if an employee has a disability (Disability in this context doesn’t refer to just physical issues – it covers mental health as well)
  • Options such as obtaining a medical report, typically via an Occupational Health provider
  • Dealing with a sickness absence management procedure
  • Dismissal from employment
  • Tackling discrimination, or managing the risks of such a claim for an employer. Failing to show due regard for any disability can lead to a costly claim for an employer.

For more information about events happening during this stress awareness week you can also visit ISMA UK

Our Employment team are happy to support you in any situation involving your employees.